Mama of the month: Dr. Courtney Bolton
Posted on April 17 2020
We connected with Dr. Courtney Bolton, a psychologist and parenting & child development expert. At this time, when we are all spending more time in front of our children, her words remind us that being present and involved is the best thing we can give our children.
Meet Dr. Courtney Bolton
Mom To: (Names and Ages of children/pets)
Vivienne (16 months)
11 new baby chicks
You're a psychologist and parenting & child development expert. Can you tell us a little more about that and how you work with children and their parents.
I’ve worked in several mental health settings and have always been drawn toward working with children and their parents. I became a parent at the start of my PhD program, and that experience shaped my desire to want to work with other parents. I was really fortunate to have some amazing mentors and ultimately end up at UCLA where I worked directly with parents to teach them skills. The research my clinic ran showed that children make incredible gains when their parents are involved – more so than if you just train their teachers or have them learn in school. What’s interesting is that the more confident parents feel, the calmer their homes and the more their children thrive. I love how simple it is – we all have the tools but sometimes we just need a little help cutting out the noise, finding what works and being confident in ourselves.
What are you currently working on?
Most of my work has been in resilience and raising happy children, and I primarily focus on friendship skills as a protective factor. While I believe that work is more important now than ever, I have also been working on a series for moms that highlights why community is so important to us and offering some insight on how to reduce stress, become more resilient and ultimately, be the parents we envision without adding more to-do’s to our day. My plan had been to offer these in person, but now we are working on a video/workshop series; so, I am also practicing flexibility.
I want women, especially mothers, to understand that research on stress shows that we actually process stress differently than men do – biologically, we don’t just fight or flee, but we have a third option, and that is to gather. We come together with friends and community in times of stress. Most of the research has been centered on men, but it’s time for us to explore our instinctive responses and better understand how to effectively handle stressors.
We know from research that there are pivotal areas that help us reduce stress – there are 6 areas that I’ve identified in my work with parents that I think are critical as we weather the uncertainty and changes brought on by the pandemic:
Power – controlling what’s within our power to control and focusing on that rather than on forces we can’t control.
Purpose – finding meaning as our jobs have shifted, our roles, routines have shifted.
Passion – discovering what fills us up and gives us lasting, fulfilling joy – such as cooking, gardening, yoga, designing, mentoring – this is something that we can enjoy over time and become better at as opposed to Pleasure, which is more fleeting.
Pleasure – whatever gets our Oxytocin flowing – a quick hit of good chocolate, bad TV or amazing sex. These are small, quick pleasures throughout the day.
People – our tribes – staying connected to the ones we love whether they are quarantined with us or not.
Perspective + Presence – shifting our perspectives to reflect on the positive and not focus on the negative or worse, the unknown. Staying in the moment can help with this as well.
While these all apply to women who are mothers or not, there is a seventh area specifically for moms – and that is parenting with confidence – the more confident and educated we are, the better we tend to parent. We need to find a style that works for us and allows us to relax into our instincts and values while we raise ourselves as parents and our children as the people we hope they will be.
As a working mom, what do you use to help get you through your work day?
Daily schedules and my partner. I am a huge believer in routines and rhythms for families – they don’t have to be rigid because that doesn’t work for everyone. The sooner that families find a flow that works though, the calmer life becomes and the easier it is to find freedom in those routines and schedules. If I know that I have the kids in the morning from 6 – 10am but my husband has them the next couple of hours, then it allows me to be present when I am with them and not worried about when or how I will respond to an email or draft a presentation. It also helps me focus and set my intention at work to power through my checklist. Ironically, really appreciate the flexibility and freedom that comes with being very scheduled.
Some people chaff at the word schedule; so, ‘routine’ may be more appropriate, but as we enter this new normal of social distancing and quarantining, I am working with a lot of my clients on finding a schedule or routine to give them some of this time and freedom. It’s also a great tool for kids to help them feel more secure by establishing predictability. It doesn’t have to be minute-by-minute, but having general blocks of time throughout the day really helps us relax by knowing what’s coming. With so much uncertainty, routines offer stability.
Every mother needs to find balance, what does your personal village look like ?
Right now, my personal village looks a little different than it might when we aren’t social distancing. In general, it is still a combination of long time friends, family, people from my faith community and new like-minded peers. I love being in community and seeing my people often. My family is very close, and I miss seeing my brothers and their families a lot. My kids are missing all of their cousins, but we are hopeful we will see everyone soon and get some family time this summer in Maine, where we go to disconnect and all be together. I am also very lucky that I have a group of girlfriends who I have known since middle school. We all live across the US. I still connect with them daily, weekly, monthly, but we are taking the time to Zoom together as a big group and message each other a little more frequently to vent, laugh and support one another. We plan an annual trip, and our next one was supposed to be in May. So, we won’t be together this spring in person. I am grieving that a little but so fortunate to have them in my life. My faith community is an important part of my village, and I love how something like your run-of-the-mill pandemic reveals what is really crucial. I used to be really attached to the ritual of gathering together, but I am seeing now, it's really about the relationships - that exist whether you are in a building altogether or widespread around the world.
I have also found community in an unlikely place - I am not typically a person who is very oriented to social media or technology outside of work, but I am definitely using that more (and learning every day). Connecting in that way has allowed me to meet new women through communities, such as HeyMama and elpha, to engage with like-minded peers juggling motherhood, career, and life.
What are you working on improving about yourself as a woman and mother?
Self-compassion. I find that I am really hard on myself at times when I feel like I haven’t achieved everything I need to achieve at work or if I believe that I am not getting the quality time that I want with my children. I used to add items to my already crazy to-do list, and now, I actually create space to recharge, reset my intentions, and focus on what I am realistically able to do. When I feel like I am falling short of my own standards, I am trying to reflect on all of the beautiful things that I have accomplished and set micro-goals that will still move me forward but without overwhelm. It’s easy as women to listen to negative self-talk, belittle our accomplishments – especially as we ‘watch’ others on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook – and wonder how everyone else has it so together while we are such complete messes. The key is focusing energy on what we have the power to control and letting go of the things we don’t while also celebrating the small wins. I may not have the trophy, but I am standing on a mountain of small wins.
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