How to recognize your child’s strengths… and position them for success in life

First, I listened to this. From Good Life Project, the podcast that turned me on to podcasts.

It’s a discussion with psychologist Lea Waters about her work in positive psychology and her new book The Strength Switch: How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish.

I feel so empowered as a parent, to give an(other) amazing gift to my children: helping them to know their strengths.

As parents we have an incredible opportunity to be a mirror for our children. Before they are conscious of the world around them, before they are influenced by social phenomena, before they are exposed to irritating cultural lies like “artists don’t make money” or “athletes get girls” or “kindness is weakness”, etc…

Meeting their incessant needs as tiny people means that we are uniquely positioned to identify their strengths for them. We are literally right there when they are plainly becoming who they are. In Lea Waters’ strength research speak, we see what they:

(1) exhibit above-average performance at,

(2) are energized by, and

(3) really LIKE doing.

And that true-strengths test defines the talents and character traits that are the secret sauce for their individual success.


For my part, I see that FL has a good memory and makes connections easily. She is determined and strong-willed. She is conscientious, taking pleasure in putting things in order. She is empathetic, friendly, sensitive, and funny. And she likes to sing in the morning when she wakes up.

If you are a parent, be on the lookout for your child’s strengths. And share your findings with your child as they grow!

Doing this simple thing can help them avoid beginning a process of self inquiry when they’re in midlife and unsatisfied with their careers, and instead give them a shot at a much happier, more fulfilled life.





Recommended this week: release your words and share your shirt

I get this feeling in my legs when I don’t get enough exercise. My whole family is like that, we get agitated when we can’t physically move. We’re like those dog breeds people feel sorry for in condos.

It’s super weird, especially in a world where so many people can’t get motivated to exercise. It’s like we can’t NOT exercise.

I get the same jumpy feeling when I can’t find a place to put the thoughts in my head. Sometimes sentences weave themselves in my brain and just stay there, spinning, crowding each other out.

They’re like “LET US OUT OF HERE”. Tapping loudly on the inside of my eyeball.

The sentences are usually about my babies. How I can’t stop kissing them. How we are still one body, somehow, even though there is open space available between us.

We have no use for it. We choose to sandwich up against one another most of the time. Baby F (FL now… my almost-preschooler) usually has at least one limb INSIDE my shirt. Arm up a sleeve, arm down the neck hole, whatever. My body is her body.

RD is still nursing. We cuddle up lying next to each other and he drinks and falls asleep. His expression is so peaceful, open, distant. A saint, a sage.

I lay them down side by side on the bed after their bath, wrapped up in towels. I ask FL – “who should I moisturize first?” and she says “Baby”. So I unwrap him and distract him with tickle-me-elmo in one hand while I put lotion on him. Then I put lotion on FL, and she escapes to sprint up and down the hall naked, squealing with delight.


A letter to baby F

One night last week you ended up in bed with us. I brought you there. Because lying down was more important to me than making sure you know your crib is where you sleep. You know that. 

You know so much. 

When you’re in the bed I don’t sleep as well. I’m aware always of where you are, that you have space to breathe , no pillows in the way. Not too close to the brick wall behind the bed. Sometimes you cuddle close and then you flop around. I think you’re restless too, in bed with us, at least at first. But you tend to be quiet there. You know you’re safe. With your people. 

Watching you wake up in the morning I think of baby animals. It’s a process. Stretching and little cooing sounds. Back to sleep for five more minutes. Hips in the air, then feet flung over one of us. And then finally, sitting up with a big smile. “Uh oh”. Softly. Your favourite word these days, at fourteen months. Sometimes you get the context right. Other times you unintentionally hit on adult irony. Baby’s up… uh oh!

Yesterday I came home from work and you said the other word. “Mummy”. For the first time! All through dinner and bath time and bedtime mischief.  “Mummy”. 

Sometimes I get down and I think the world is leaving me behind while it makes plans for Saturday night, or exotic vacations, or career advancement. Or anything. When I’m exhausted and uncertain and overwhelmed. But then you say my name in your sweet little voice, you cuddle in close in my bed where I held you the day we brought you home (and in utero for nine months before that). And everything is right and perfect. 

I guess I’m realizing something about the world: that it’s too big anyway. And the best thing I can do is concentrate and creating my own little world. That matters to me. And right now you, my darling, are in the centre of it. 

What a moment to myself looks like

Baby F is sleeping and I have a moment to myself. I finish folding laundry. I think about cleaning the kitchen counters but instead I brush off the bits of dirt that came loose when I unwrapped the potted tulip that’s sitting there. All red with yellow insides, opening coquettishly.

Last weekend a friend told me about how tiny dogs are being bred to fit into purses but are developing terrible health problems in the process. I already knew this but she seemed pretty rocked so I went along.

“That’s terrible”.

It is though, actually. These dogs are just not meant to be that small.

Did you know that human newborns are the most vulnerable, under-developed mammal at birth? Our little brains are only 25% developed when we come out of incubation. It’s because of the mother’s physiology – as upright walkers, we can only grow the baby so much and still be able to safely birth it.

No other animal needs to care for their young in the way that humans do.

I want to love my red and yellow tulip, but I have this ominous feeling it will die in here. My Valentine’s day roses fell and wilted in a matter of days. This can’t be good.

I’ve become comfortable with the untidy mess of my house. On account of I’m caring for a human infant twenty-four hours a day. And I’m used to disappointing my partner who will come home and see the counter I brushed off but didn’t clean and he will just see a slightly dirty counter. I imagine that he imagines this is some negative reflection on me, but to be honest I don’t know if that’s true.

Another friend recently told me about her experience getting on anti-anxiety medication. She’s been on it for about eight months. Is that past the honeymoon stage? I thought so, but I don’t know. She says the meds have profoundly increased her enjoyment of life.

She’s a mother, by the way.  I wonder how I would do with a little medication…

I wonder how it went as we evolved to upright walkers – as our physical bodies put limits on the development of our babies, did our emotional intuitiveness expand so that we could care properly for our newborns? Or is it possible that we gradually developed this immense capacity for caregiving, and that meant we could start to stand on two feet?

I googled “are tulips naturally two-toned?”. Nothing but ads for tulips.

You know what? I will keep this tulip alive because it might be a genetically modified mutant. And that seems unfair. I’m going to water it for all those poor tiny dogs.

I can do this because I’m the master nurturer of the animal kingdom.

Even when unmedicated.

And for this, I don’t know whether to say thank you or you’re welcome. I think both.

Young hearts run free


Teaching mama and baby yoga has had me questing to discover the best yoga postures for energy. Because sleep is hard to come by when mothering a baby. I’ve learned that back bends, twists and deep breathing can help.

Inhale. Exhale.

And time apart. Which is why I’m camped out at my local independent coffee shop. Alone with my americano and my words. Blending in with the regular crowd, I think. And all of a sudden a swarm of moms and babies are entering. Unkempt, earthy, tired. Noisy. I feel like I’m undercover – I’m one of you but you can’t tell. My baby is at home with her granny. I miss her. But I love being here on my own.

Inhale. Exhale.

I’m so excited to talk about things outside of baby. To scale my life in a bigger ecosystem. To say we’re ordering in and not feel like I somehow failed to fulfill the duties of Home Life President. As defined in a different time, for a different woman. A job I’ve learned is not for me.

These Mondays though, they come with pangs. A pang of future Mondays. What will it feel like? To get dressed and leave the house without her? To leave her in the care of another? Another who doesn’t love her like I do. Who won’t sing her our songs.  My eyes sting.

Inhale. Exhale.

I have often remarked, if it was the 1950s we mothers wouldn’t sit around planning our childcare, agonizing over daycare wait lists and nanny shares and transitioning back to work. I have said this out loud to rooms of new mothers, in these safe sisterly communities we are always trying to create, for me in vain. No one has picked up the conversation. Is it too painful? Confusing? Overwhelming? A foregone conclusion? A stupid comment?

I don’t wish myself back in time. Not for a second. The fight for gender equality has barely started in my view, and I won’t give one inch back. But sometimes these choices don’t feel like choices. To spend the bulk of the week working outside of the home, or, caring for my young child. Now my job is to make an impossible choice I can live with.

Inhale. Exhale.

Podcasts, walks, fatigue, anxiety, cuddles and overwhelming love. These are the ways I will remember maternity leave. A warping, tinting, melting, of the glass walls through which I see this world. They say the years are short but the days are long. At ten months Baby F astounds me. She knows her home, her toys, the best vents to bang on, where the baby monitor is kept (favourite thing to throw across the floor). I let her because I secretly want it to break, its random beeping for no apparent reason one of the most elusive and frustrating mysteries of these past ten months.

The greatest mystery of these past ten months though, remains: what does the future hold for me? Unsolved.

Seeking strength and wisdom now and always. To lead a life I can look back on with pride and joy. And that I can embrace and exalt in along the way.

Inhale. Young hearts. Exhale. Run free.



I’m taking a refresher on how to write. Things like: tell an interesting story, have a conflict that gets resolved, include self-discovery. Be a little bit scared about each post.

J is always telling me to shake up my routine. As a way to shake up my thinking.  I look at baby F and think about all those neural pathways that have yet to be formed.

Actually, one unexpected benefit of baby F’s early wake ups is that all she wants is to get up at 6 am and play with her cup collection and edible book. So while she’s doing that  I’ve started meditating.

In other words, she forges neural pathways while I attempt to clear mine. Continue reading “Surrender”

Cycling in the rain

I forgot how unpleasant it is to bike in the rain without a back fender.

That slice of Scot somewhere in my blood has left me with a solid attitude of making-do. As if using money and modern convenience to solve a problem is somehow too bourgeois.

Since taking the Quistic masterclass on personality type, I’m obsessed with typing everyone I know (type yourself here for free). When I’m feeding baby F, I go through the people I know and search for type patterns. For example, every member of my and J’s family is an I for introvert. Except for big old extroverted me.

It explains so much about my adolescent “behavioural issues” – convinced my parents didn’t love me when in fact they just didn’t ever feel like talking.

I get it now. Mind and heart open.

In British Columbia they have a problem with exotic birds finding good homes. This former nurse found her calling helping these birds and their adoptive humans find peace in their relationships. The birds are anxious, often bought and returned more than once by well-meaning but ignorant animal lovers. She implements simple systems rewarding good bird behaviour. When the birds scream in their cages the people leave the room. When the birds are quiet the people come back.

It works because the birds just want to be close to the people.

Social creatures, comforted by the presence of warm blood nearby. By a face and a voice and a beating heart. By the possibility of connection.

In choir we are working on this glorious piece. The first line ends with a tone cluster – notes sung together that don’t conventionally match. As singers our job is to find the heart of the dissonance and lean into it, often fighting against our instincts in order to do it correctly. But when we lock into it, it feels so right.

Only after the darkest hour, does the light emerge.

Our conductor asked us to sing those notes as if we were removing the lid from a canister containing pure light.

Un-cage-ing something unexpected, bursting forth.

This week one of my favourite podcast hosts Jonathan Fields published a manifesto. As a mother, as a carer, this jumped out: Self-care is the beating heart of other care.

That’s why this week’s yoga is about self care. Picture self massage, guided meditation and opening the heart chakra. Imagine a light shining out of your heart right now – bursting through your rib cage. Your heart cage. Are you sitting a little taller, making a little more space for it? You see, my personality type is all about inspiring people. I’m programmed to cultivate light. You know, me and Oprah (actually).  

In the coffee shop where I’m sitting all the men pick up the barista. So far they’ve talked about snowboarding, Toronto’s dashed baseball dreams, astronomy, California. The Adele concert. Butter croissants. Halloween costumes. I’ve been here for a while.

It’s time to bike home now and get back to baby F. Her hedgehog hair that looks like baby bird feathers. Born jet black and inexplicably lightening by the day, to wheat, butter or strawberry depending on the light. I love her so much. I’m the parrot that just wants to stay close.

Making do as I am with no fender in the rain, I’ll count on that ethereal light coming from inside my rib cage to carry me through all that splatter. A canister containing pure light.

It’s worth so much more than new bike parts anyways.

You will have sex again

J and I were asked to visit a prenatal class at the birth centre where we had baby F and share some of our experience. To get ready, I thought about what would have been helpful for me to hear heading into labour and birth. Here are ten things. For more (possibly too many) details, check out our birth story.

10. Stay as active as you can. I believe long walks were the key to my labour starting on time and progressing well. I was out for hour+ walks in the park near my house up until the day before I went into labour.  Good for the body, good for the mind.

9. Talk to your partner beforehand.  Talk about what’s scary. Talk about what you think you’re going to need. I puked a bunch during labour. We didn’t know that was coming and it was weird doing it in front of him. But we had talked about the wild wonders that we would experience. We were ready for anything.

8. Visualize your labour and birth.  What are you going to be doing. Where are you going to be. How are you going to feel. What are you going to listen to. Eat. Etc.. Its been proven that people can practice and improve their golf game from jail cells using only their minds. This is the power of visualization.

7. Give yourself a break. One of the pieces of advice I got before baby was to have sex! But I wasn’t feeling it. So I had the added and totally unnecessary stress of worrying that I was not taking advantage of what could be my last months of good sex, ever. Do what you feel like doing. You will have sex again when you feel more like yourself. Some report improved orgasms following vaginal birth.  So that’s something to feel good about.

6. People are the worst with their parenting advice.  I hated when people I didn’t know that well joked with me that I would never sleep again. It’s not funny guys, It’s Terrifying.  One of my best chats during pregnancy was with a former colleague with four kids who said that expecting your first child is stressful.  Yes it’s also beautiful. But for most people it’s stressful and the messages we get as new parents-to-be don’t always honour that. So don’t listen to annoying advice that makes it more stressful. Those people are insensitive and they’re also not telling you that having your baby is going to bring you immense joy.

5. Don’t buy all the things (unless you really take comfort in stockpiling). So you might need breast pads, nipple cream, perineum spray, one of those rings to sit on, giant pads, heat packs, etc. And you might not. If you’re a person who likes to stockpile and you feel good about it, then go for it. But for everyone else, send your partner or a family member out to get what you need when you need it. You’ll save money and if your partner is like mine, they will appreciate a useful outing.

4. Accept food from any and all sources. After giving birth I was so hungry.  And food tasted so good. You ran a marathon. Be nourished.

3. After you have your baby, stay in bed.  Don’t walk much. Take it really easy. Cuddle with your new cuddle bunny. Take visitors in your bedroom. Seriously, this is a time to be in your loungewear, don’t put real clothes on if you don’t want to. Keep your legs closed, literally,  for two weeks. Your body is healing so let it.

2. Do the skin on skin thing – it’s developmentally beneficial and it just feels nice. For both you and your partner and anyone else deemed appropriate by you.

1. Take pictures. I wish I had pictures from labour and delivery and more pictures from those first moments. You won’t feel like taking pictures. But you might love having them after the fact.

All the best to the parents-to-be! The path you’re heading down is well-worn with generations of parents who were like you, and who found their way.

Don’t panic 

It’s evening in paradise. Today I stood by the ocean, reading the “beware of the rip tides” signs and observing the plentiful red warning flags,  and thought: so stunning and so dangerous. Nature’s paradox.

There were instructions posted on what to do if you were swept out to sea.

1. Don’t panic! 

Followed by a swim guide  for a safe return to shore.

After months of hearing that traveling with a baby is “so easy” and “the best”, I’m calling it. Guys, this is not easy. 

Baby F is a full time job and that job continues here, just with better scenery. She is with us everywhere we go, as she should be. That includes the beach which is hot and terrifyingly loud for her, the pool which is a touch too cool, the shuttle bus which is surprisingly comfortable but also totally unsafe.

Everywhere, she’s nursing or crying or cooing or just being a baby. Cooped up in our arms or her stroller, she gets restless and wants to explore. In public parks, in fine dining establishments, the hotel lobby. I’m looking around constantly  to see if we’re making anyone annoyed, uncomfortable or both.  

I’m deprived of sleep. I’m not at my best, uncharacteristically irritable. Craving time alone. 

I see other mothers. For the first time, I really see them. I see them rubbing sunscreen on their kids. Watching their toddlers go down the water slide again and again. And again. Patiently folding the towels, packing up the beach things to head back to the hotel. Making sure everyone is safe and fed and having a good time. Doing their best.

I see other couples. The ones without kids, the young ones. They are rested, they are getting tipsy. They are fresh as they recharge -from their work, with their partner. Well fed and probably well sexed. Remember? 

The sweet slow drip of time is changing all of us. Into the next incarnation of ourselves. So gradual you can barely feel it.

Until you land in paradise. 

And manage to feel more anxious because you couldn’t very well bring the jumperoo. But oh how you wish you could have!  

Now all you want is a glass of wine and a good night’s sleep. A short break from all this responsibility that came along as a package deal… with the  ocean of pure love you jumped headfirst into – arresting beauty and  breathtaking power – the day your kid was born.  

Welcome to the new normal. 

Dangerous. And yet. 

Through the fog of too little sleep and the inconvenience of being in  a foreign  place with a tiny human, you are grateful every day. Achingly so. For that spectacular ocean of love. 

So long sweet summer

And just like that, the summer comes to an end. Those who will get tanned have done so. Those who will have barbecues, go waterskiing, see outdoor concerts, go to the zoo and have picnics have done so.

There’s a nip in the morning air, like clockwork. I like to think I was the first to know about the first cool morning since I poked my head out at 4:30am and felt it. What mother is sleeping at that time, really? Not this one.

The end of summer in this town is bittersweet. We’re season people so we like the change. We cheer: cozy sweaters! pumpkin spice lattes! Plus this summer was especially hot, especially humid, especially heat warning and UV index “Very High” and all that dangerous stuff. Hard to enjoy your spiked lemonade when you’re busy trying to shade yourself so you don’t get a third degree burn. Ah, my pale English roots.

But summer is the universally fun season and everyone knows it. It’s loud and extroverted, untamed. The childhood thrill of no school leaves a hangover for life. Only now as adults we mix in finding entertainment for our kids (computer camp – woo!) and battling weekend traffic to cottage country. But a cold beer by the lake? Just beautiful.

Summer 2016 was the second season of transformation in motherhood – coming out of the haze of birthing, awestruck in the presence of newborn life, and settling into the new normal. A twosome come threesome. A mother first. A wife and daughter, distant second. Somewhere a friend. Somewhere, way down there, everything else.

So long sweet summer. Wow, that song is from 2000. A sobering reminder of the speed of life. The speed of light.

Breathe and savour this moment. It’s unlike any other in your past or future. Happy Fall.