Category Archives: Psychology

To be scared or to trust?… In memoriam of all innocent victims of meaningless violence

What happened in Brussels today was shocking, sadly predictable and totally useless act of violence. My thoughts are with victims and their families!…

Luckily for myself neither my family nor my friends were directly affected but nonetheless I guess I won’t exaggerate if I say that it left all of us in the state of deep shock. My husband was in Brussels airport couple of days ago, my good friend lives in the stone throw from Maelbeek metro station and takes it on the regular basis… Those people who died today (or any other day before) were just people like you and I; they were mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brother and sisters, husbands and wives. They had hopes and dreams and plans for Easter vacations…

When horrible things like that happen somewhere in the world, I empathize with those who suffered but let’s be honest there is less fear as “it could not have been me”. And then suddenly it strikes right next to you and you understand not just at the level of your brain and heart but with every single cell of your body that IT.COULD.HAVE.BEEN.ME. And then the tenacious, overwhelming, paralyzing fear gets to you. But we simply ought to shake that fear off, as that’s not the idea! If we fear, they win. If we rage, they win. If we change who we are, they win. They don’t deserve to win!!! 

All the recent gruesome events made me think about how I want my kids to see this world. Yes, the first emotional reaction is fear and rage and blaming, but it is very wrong. Of course, one has to be realistic and vigilant when there is danger. However, what I don’t want for my kids is to grow up fearing this world. I don’t want my kids to spread hatred. I don’t want my kids to see people by definition as being bad. People are wonderful! Did you see what was happening on Twitter today after the attacks? People were immediately offering help, shelter, support (#ikwilhelpen). Taxi drivers in Brussels spontaneously started offering free rides. People were lining up to donate blood. I saw hundreds of offers to drive, pick up kids and so on in my Facebook feed. The same was happening in November in Paris. People are in general helpful and supportive! People are in general genuinely good! And I want to trust people. And I want my kids to trust people and not be scared of everyone they don’t know. I want my kids to be free of prejudice, judging, dividing, hatred, making false assumptions and labeling others. I want my kids to see the beauty and kindness of others and be kind themselves.

These are my values, these are our values and they are worth standing for.

In memoriam of all innocent victims of meaningless violence…

 

 

 

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Guilty pleasures: Pampering your inner child

A guilty pleasure is something, such as a movie, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard. (source: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid I always wanted to grow up as fast as possible for one main reason: I could do whatever I wanted. That’s what I thought. I could eat that chocolate for breakfast, I could go out for a walk in the late evening, I could watch that stupid show for the third time, I could stay for a whole day in my nightgown and a whole bunch of other stuff that I could finally do. Yesterday I had an argument with my daughter that wanted to eat M&M’s instead of an apple for her snack time. I bet she was also thinking at the moment how she will grow up and then…! And then comes adulthood and understanding of what’s good for you and what’s not. And you don’t do it, although now you finally can. So unfair, isn’t it?

I must admit that even though generally I am a responsible health-conscious adult (giggle!), I allow myself some guilty pleasures from time to time, because it makes me feel good and if I feel good it affects everything I do. Maybe because I still have that inner child in me that also needs to be pampered from time to time.

So this is precisely why:

  • Sometimes instead of a decent lunch I have yet another cup of coffee and a chocolate. Or two.
  • And speaking about chocolates: if we have a box of chocolates, I first eat all the ones that I like the most, even if they are in the bottom layer of the box (so annoying, ain’t it?).
  • Sometimes I distract my kids with a cartoon and in the meanwhile eat a bowl of ice-cream. Alone. Without sharing.
  • Sometimes I watch those totally brainless sitcoms like “Two and a half men” (and that’s not the first round, I am afraid) and even “Married… with children”.
  • Sometimes instead of going for a normal walk, I get my son to sleep in his buggy on the terrace and in the meanwhile train my golf pitch in the garden.
  • After opera I like to go to McDonald’s. Maybe because after I have been “lifted up” by the gorgeous classical music I feel the strong urge to be grounded again. Maybe. But that’s already a tradition that I have with my mom. And I like it. (or should I better say – “I’m loving it?”)
  • I once spent a whole evening recording myself singing Jennifer Lopez songs. Well, technically she was still singing, but I was just opening my mouth. On the video it looked like it was me who was singing, though. It was fun! Hello! My name is Maria and I am turning 31 today.
  • When I am playing with Lego together with kids I take their blocks away if I need them to build my “castle”… Did I mention I am turning 31 today? (LOL)

Keyword in all of the above is of course “sometimes”, otherwise it is no longer a guilty pleasure, but just a guilty lifestyle (gigle!). But it is somehow comforting to know that I am able to let that nasty little girl that lives inside of me to have some fun from time to time. If it doesn’t fit the image of a smart grown-up mother of two – well, as they say it Dutch – pech! (~ “bad luck!”).

P.S. and my daughter did get her M&M’s even though it was only after she had her apple…

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Work-life balance when you don’t have a salaried job

What defines “work-life” balance? And can we speak of a “work-life” balance of a stay-at-home mother that doesn’t have a salaried job?

On one hand, somebody might say that all she has is “life”. However, on the other, I’d bet many stay-at-home mothers strongly believe that all they have is “work” with a tiny speck of “life” on it. The funny thing – there is a grain of truth in both statements. If it energizes you or relaxes you even household chores can qualify as “life”. And at the same time, if your toddler drives you crazy with yet another hysterical outburst that accounts for “work” on your balance. Thus, I guess more accurate would be to talk about a balance between “what drains your energy?” and “what replenishes your energy?”. And this is very relevant for everybody whether you do have or do not have a salaried job, and actually in general whether you are a mother or not.

We need energy to stay alive. We need nutrition for our bodies and, maybe even more importantly, we need nutrition for our minds and soul. Same as with food our taste for, so-to-say, “moral energy” differs. The only thing that is constant is that we really truly need it, otherwise sooner or later we will break down… And if this happens to a mother it is a disaster for a whole family.

Did you pay attention to the security information announced before every flight? “In case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure… <…> Passengers traveling with small children should put on their own oxygen mask first“. It might be somewhat counter-intuitive, because you as a mother, are focused first of all on the safety and well-being of your kids, your kids are the most important thing in life and that’s true. Yet, what is also true is that your kids need you and if you break down that’s going to be a tragedy for them. I wouldn’t want that my kids experience this so I make sure my energy is replenished.

Personally, I get energy:

  • when I create: a new poem, a new cake, a new embroidery…;
  • when I go to an opera or a theater, or at least listen to some good old Bach or Mozart;
  • when I play golf;
  • when I lie in a jacuzzi in a SPA-center;
  • when I have my second cup of coffee in the morning (first one is usually a ristretto or a dopio that is consumed in a moment and serves the only purpose of opening my eyes, but the second one is a latte that I enjoy without a hurry);
  • when I read a good book;
  • when I play with Lego-blocks together with my kids. Yes! That is so zen!
  • I am not a religious person, but somehow and especially when I am traveling, I like to get into a church and sit there for a little while. It also gives me sort of energy. Maybe it is because of the special aura of a church, or maybe it is because the huge Gothic construction of a lot of European churches makes you realize how a human being is simultaneously tiny compared to all this greatness and magnificent because he in fact co-created this greatness (and here I am purely talking about admiration of an architectural beauty).
  • sometimes even just having a long walk with a kid in a buggy (preferably with a sleeping (!) kid in a buggy)…

There are lots of ways how energy can be replenished, but most importantly it has to be replenished. For everybody. And especially for a stay-at-home mother who does have a lot of stuff that drains her energy out.

So don’t forget to put on your own oxygen mask when there is a loss of cabin pressure and… preferably before it gets too late.

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Blending cultural identities: raising multicultural kids when you are culturally homeless

“Who are you and where are you from?” – these two questions are supposed to define ourselves but for a lot of people they are very difficult to answer. If somebody asks me now: “Where are you from?” what should I reply? I am from Belgium, however I am not Belgian. I am originally from Latvia, I hold Latvian nationality, I did my University studies in Latvian and worked in that language. I have a mother tongue fluency in Latvian and a solid knowledge of history and culture of Latvia, yet… I am not Latvian. I am ethnically Russian, but I have only been to Russia twice and not to, so-to-say, “deep-Russia” but to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, and for a total of less than 3 weeks. What I remember vividly from those trips is that I was culturally shocked in what I believed to be my culture. I consider English to be my home language now because this is the language I talk percentage-wise the most: and with my husband and with a lot of my friends. Those who hear me talk English without knowing that this ain’t my mother tongue based on the accent assume I am American. Yet I am obviously neither American (haven’t even been to the States yet), nor even technically English-speaking as such. I was born in the Soviet Union, however the Soviet Union broke down before I even started elementary school, so for those who understand – I haven’t even had a chance to be oktyabryonok. Wait, it gets worse! Even my name – in my Belgian ID my family name is “Wynants”, yet in my Latvian passport – I am “Vinantsa” transliterated according to Latvian language rules. So who am I and where am I from actually? To think about it – I am culturally homeless.

If things are so complex with myself how am I supposed to raise my kids? And who are my kids going to be? Belgian? Wait, there is no “Belgian” as in this country things are also kinda mixed up. Flemish? But they are exposed to Russian culture and language a lot, and their first words were in Russian. Plus, they hear hell of a lot of English and to my horror (giggle) start to understand it as well, despite the fact that we never directly address them in English. So this is a difficult question that I am still in the process of exploring it for myself, thus I am always eager to hear other people’s experiences and thoughts.

While researching the subject myself I have stumbled upon a term “Third Culture Kids” (there are quite a few TED-videos on the subject if someone is interested). The term “third culture kid” or TCK itself was first coined in the mid-20 century to describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad. The “third culture” comes from the fact that parents have one culture, the place where a family lives has another culture, but the kids raised in such circumstances create a sort of an amalgamation of two cultures mentioned to create something of their own – hence the third culture. However, I do consider that with globalization and with an enhanced mobility this term should be expanded to include all those people who grew up under a significant impact of diverse cultures. It is no longer a 20 km life! More and more people are born in one place, go study to another, then go working to yet another and settle somewhere completely else with somebody from a different culture, and maybe after a while are again on the move. This is a reality already now and it will be even more so when today’s kids grow up. So the question “Where are you from?” is no longer simple.

On the one hand this sort of cultural homelessness creates a lot of difficulties in self-identification, but on the bright side this also brings enormous opportunities, such as an expanded worldview, an enhanced cultural intelligence, a 3D view of the world if you will. But then again, consider a situation: a family is sitting in front of TV watching, let’s say, football. Which national team is everyone supporting? Think about it for a moment. This silly example portrays a situation which might be psychologically difficult for parents to accept. We are talking about confused loyalties, about different values, about accepting that your kid doesn’t share your identity. But then again, the beauty is that you have a choice. Nowadays you can choose to define yourself not just based on the ethnicity, not based on the location where you were born or where you currently live. You can choose to define yourself by different categories: by your own personal values, by your own beliefs and not just by a tag somebody placed on you. Thus, there are for sure lots and lots of positive consequences of blending cultures if you approach the subject with an open mind.

Also as a parent there are myriads of benefits that you are able to give your kids (language, traditions, literature, perception, even food habits,…) provided that you yourself are open and willing to expand your personal worldview; if you are willing to explore your own culture and the other cultures you encounter on your way. Without prejudice, without judging, with a sincere wish to understand and enrich yourself. I guess that would help us all a lot and would allow to raise a truly multicultural people of the future.

 

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Protecting wings from being cut

While browsing through my Facebook I stumbled upon an interesting question posed in one of the groups – “Who is cutting your wings?”. Replies split almost equally between those who were blaming themselves and those who identified some external sources of influence: like a husband, family, friends, colleagues. It made me think about dreams, about identifying them in the first place and daring to follow them. And about all those moments when you are so inspired and uplifted, yet all your enthusiasm is crushed like a bug on the ground by someone whose opinion you value. Those moments when you feel good about yourself, but are made feel worthless; when you are, as Russians say, multiplied by zero; when your dreams are shattered and wings are cut…

… But let me start with identifying dreams first because “if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable” (Seneca).

Long time ago when I was something like 17 or 18 years old (damn, I am old!) inspired by the movie “The Secret” I made my first list of wishes, hopes and dreams. There were 100 items from all possible categories starting with things I want, moving onto experiences I want, even places I would like to visit. Dreaming without any limitations, without thinking whether you can afford that, whether you are physically or mentally capable of doing that at the moment – dreaming without analyzing. I remember that it was fairly simple to write down the first 50 items or so, yet to reach the number 100 it took me almost a week. I looked at my old list couple of months ago and  – it’s almost complete! Some items were scratched off because I don’t want them anymore, however the majority of my wishes and dreams has actually realized. In the hindsight there were quite a few items in that list that back then were simply impossible for this or that reason: like going to China or learning to play golf, or studying abroad or having “Manolo Blahnik” shoes. Guess what: I went to China as part of my MBA studies (done abroad), I learned to play golf last summer and pretty much like in “Sex and the City” my husband proposed me putting on beige “Manolo Blahnik” shoes on my feet.

Few yet unrealized items are now transferred to my “Life plan” – which is an extensive list divided in 6 categories covering all the main aspects of my life – lifestyle, health, emotional well-being, financials, personal development and vocation and family (I will talk about how to write it in one of the future posts). Yes, a bit insane, I know. However, knowing precisely what I would like in my life and with my life creates a good focus. Just for a giggle – if tomorrow I am going to win “Euromillions” then I know precisely where and how I will spend that money. Yet also if it never happens I am pretty convinced that somehow there will be a way to get everything that I want. Even (and maybe especially) if I don’t see that way at this moment in time.

Now after dreams are identified comes a more difficult part – daring to follow your dreams and this is where wings are often cut

I am lucky to be supported at all times by at least one person in whatever crazy initiatives I would like to pursue. I always believed in myself but for success it is psychologically important to have or find that other person who also believes in you no matter what. When I was growing up I always had my mother by my side. My mother has never questioned my dreams, never put me down saying that something is not possible and or is not for me. She never reminded me of past failures. She inspired me and lifted me up when I felt down. She was there for me when after the first course at a law faculty I decided to switch from a full-time to a part-time program because I believed that if I work simultaneously I will achieve more. I remember a lot of friends at that moment saying that I am making a mistake, killing my inspiration and enthusiasm about actual legal job with comments like: “in this way you are going to fail your studies and are not going to get far anyway”. I graduated with 7,62 on 10, having four years of legal experience including representation before the court behind my belt. The same repeated when I quit my job and decided to do an MBA. I have been told by almost everyone around me that I was making a huge mistake, that I am jeopardizing my future, that I will regret and that I will never be admitted to the business school anyway, yada yada yada. And once again, my mother was there for me, protecting my wings from being cut. I have several stories like that where only with a support of my mother, with her unconditional belief in me that I succeeded, and I am eternally grateful to her for that.

This type of support is what I hope to be able to give my kids as well – to be there for them to protect their wings from being cut.

 

P.S. It is easier when you are supported, I understand. But even if you don’t have that person or people that believe in you at this moment, at least don’t betray yourself – don’t give up on yourself! Ever. There was a great quote by Walt Disney (yeah, a second quote in a short text, but it somehow fits) –

“If you can dream it, you can do it!”

– So don’t stop dreaming! Believe in yourself and your dreams! And go for them! You will find the ones who will support you along the way!