nataliam

Building Family Rituals This Summer

If there’s one concept most families are familiar with (and crave), it’s the idea of routines. Routines help us stay organized and keep track of multiple moving parts. Routines are what help family members decide how to spend their time, together and separately. Rituals, on the other hand, are how families invest time and emotion. Rituals are predictable activities that help family members forge a strong sense of group identity and belonging.

Rituals and routines are especially crucial during times of high stress and transition, which occur frequently during the adolescent years. This life stage is marked with navigating the unknown, searching for identity and juggling physical and emotional changes all at once. Routines and rituals at home can help adolescents and their families find some footing. So how do we put rituals into practice? Many people associate this practice with holiday rituals and celebrations, for example: your birthday rolls around and you can predict how the day is going to go. Ideally, your loved ones are gathered with cake and candles, invested in spending time together and creating memories for years to come. However, rituals can also be the small things, the day-to-day moments that add up. Maybe family dinners or car chats after a soccer game; the intentional moments that allow space for communication and connection. Rituals are the wonderfully predictably practices that remind us we’re in it together.

While rituals can vary greatly by family system and culture, what each family deems worthy, allows it to become worthy. Here are a few simple ideas that can help your family get the ball rolling with establishing your own family rituals:

  1. Family Game Night: This is a time for play and laughter which directly contributes to a sense of connection. Also, allows family members to take turns pitching in game ideas and rule suggestions.

  2. Bedtime rituals: For littles, this can include storytime and snuggles. For older kids/teens this can mean identifying a high/low of the day or some form of emotional check-in before closing the day out.

  3. Family Meetings: Intentionally and consistently set aside time time to allow family members to discuss various topics and bring other family members up to speed on what's going on in their lives. Even allow space for discussions around changes in family rules or routines, or bring up ways to better meet family needs.

  4. Family outings/road trips: Hit the road! Whether this be an annual family vacation or perhaps just a short Sunday adventure. Your family can easily alter this based on time or financial constraints.

  5. Family walks/ exercise: Perhaps there is a sport that your family is interested in and would benefit from participating in together. Or keep it simple and take a short walk around the neighborhood to unwind and talk.

  6. Cooking/ Meal Preparation: If this is something that could be enjoyable for your family, let everyone get involved. Even allowing room for family members to experiment with recipes or learn how to make traditional family recipes. There is so much creativity and love that can go into cooking. (Note: if it wouldn't be enjoyable to get the whole family involved in the cooking, remember that there are people who enjoy to cook for others and some who take joy in eating it! That's how we bring everyone into the fun!)

  7. Family Wishlist: Set time aside to identify some wishes/goals for each season or calendar year as a family, and make it happen! Maybe in the summer you want to have a cookout, swim or make time to go the county fair. Allowing each family member to contribute and then feeling the gratification when you cross each item off the list!

These are all general ideas that can be adapted to each family and their unique needs. However, feel free to take this concept of family rituals and add your own twist!

Sync Up and Parent as a Team

Imagine parenting to be like managing a ship. You plan a route, assign tasks to your crew and hope that everyone pitches in. The crew relies on the co-captains, or parents, for guidance and reassurance. Now imagine if the co-captains are sending conflicting information. This approach leaves the crew confused about how to proceed. Often, what ensues is chaos, stress, and a crew that either attempts to benefit from this discord or proceed with discouragement.

This is similar to families when the co-captains, or parents, are not aligned. Each partner is working hard and making decisions based on their own goals, often unaware of what their co-captain is delegating at the same time. Let’s be clear, this is typically done with the best of intentions and belief that you are steering your family in a great direction. Yet, if the ship is being steered in two different directions, not much is accomplished. If you notice your children going behind your back to ask your partner permission, the rules often shift, or perhaps there is no family mission in place, this can be a fantastic opportunity to reflect with your partner on how to sync up. This can feel like a big undertaking. Many of us did not grow up in homes that had consistent structure and a transparency in why our parents operated the way they did. However, this is an opportunity to grow and learn. Remember: perfection is not the end goal here!

A great starting point is to sit down with your partner and discuss what values you are wanting to instill in your family. Whether that be adventure, honesty, selfless service, etc., start to discuss why these values matter to you. Really hear each other out and try to connect with your partner’s point of view, even if your lists differ. Second, reflect on how your current “rules” or guidelines at home either support or deviate from these values. You want to both be clear on how each guideline directly promotes your top values. Once these guidelines are clearly established, they also need to be written out so that all ages can understand what is expected. When spelling out guidelines think “SMART” - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. For younger kids, pictures are also effective.

It can be helpful to call a family meeting and sit down with your kids to discuss, especially when changes have been made. Now with the family present, explain what is the purpose of each guideline. For example, we will spend each Sunday morning together as a family at breakfast for one hour, without phone/tablets to include quality time, holidays and vacations included. If you have buy-in about the purpose of this, there is more likelihood your children will have buy-in as well. Allow for questions and even for a respectful discussion to ensue. With teens, it oftentimes helps to allow some flexibility for feedback or editing the guidelines together so everyone can feel invested in the process. Having everyone sign the list and posting a copy for reference can symbolize this commitment of the entire family.

Now, the most important piece: FOLLOW THROUGH. Louder for the people in the back!! CONSISTENCY is key. If you and your partner agree to establish a rule or guideline, stick to it. It can be tough, but it’s so crucial to make sure you’re honoring your co-captain and the mission you’ve laid out for your family. If you slide, that actually means you are going against your commitment. This lends to anxiety and confusion.  It is crucial for your children to learn that you are true to your word and that what you expect of them is consistent. Perhaps this feels like something too big to take on without some extra support or you and your partner feel way off track. This can be common, especially with separated or blended families that are trying co-parent and are struggling to communicate. Know that family therapy is an option. There are wonderful therapists who can patiently walk parents through this process, and help clarify how to work together to steer the ship in an intentional direction.

Fighting the End-Of-School-Year Burnout

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

It’s often the same old story for students. You are counting down the days until the school year ends, and then freedom can begin! You have spent all year working hard and juggling so many moving parts in your life. Yet, finals are coming up and summer feels far away. Maybe you’ve already noticed your motivation dropping and your feet dragging when it comes to keep up with everything going on. The struggle can feel very real!

This feeling of “burnout” often pops up when we try to power through, without also taking care of ourselves. You may have received messages that you have to keep pushing on, even if you start to reach your breaking point. However, this is not realistic! Resilience, or the ability to keep going despite our circumstances, requires us to rest when we need to.

For some, burnout means feeling cranky, checked out, tearful or even shutting down. Things that used to be fun, can seem uninteresting or even overwhelming. Your body is actually screaming, “take care of me! Slow down!”

What can you do?? You have a couple months left a you still need to survive. Here are some simple tools you can use to help yourself recharge and actually get through this last hump until summer break. I challenge you to try some of these on, and see what works for you:

1.    Check in with yourself. What are you are feeling right now? Maybe: sad, irritated, nervous, numb… find the word that feels true. And then name one helpful thing you can do for yourself in this moment. And most importantly, DO it!

2.    Get your basic needs met. Are you hungry, thirsty, or tired? If these things aren’t being taken care of not much else will be able to help. It’s amazing the impact a glass of water or a 20-minute power nap can have.

3.    Find one moment each day that you are grateful for. Gratitude actually helps us see our life in a more positive light.

4.    Make a list of small things that energize you. And then write those into your weekly planner. Literally. Carve out time in your schedule to do at least 2-3 of those, along with your other responsibilities. It’s ok to be busy, and still take moments for you!

5.    Mix it up! If you are starting to feel like each week is dragging on, then find ways to do things a bit differently. Maybe change up your study spots, try out some new breakfast recipes, change up your route to school or find some new albums to listen to. Variety will help your brain stay present in the moment and less “checked out”.

6.    Name the hard days. Having a tough day? Call it out. You can start by admitting this to yourself or talk to people in your life that you trust.  It can help you accept that you are being challenged and realize that others are in the same boat. This doesn’t mean you’re weak, only human. Plus, you’ve already survived ALL of your hard days up to this point. You’ve got a pretty great track record!


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Meet Natalia!

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Hi there, welcome!!

I want to take this opportunity to talk to YOU directly and share a bit more of who I am. People often have mixed ideas about who comes to mind when they think of a therapist. In all honesty, growing up I did not think of a young, female in this profession. That’s not what was portrayed in movies or who I learned about in school, and also why I was nervous about delving into this career. AND yet... here I am, several licenses and years of counseling experience later. I am beyond grateful I showed up to be able to get to this point. I absolutely love this work and believe that I was meant for it!

One of the quotes that forever rings in my ears, is Georgia O’Keefe saying, “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

This holds true to being a client in therapy as well. I’ve been lucky enough to be in both positions, and I totally get it. It takes a huge amount of courage to sit with a complete stranger and begin to share. I’m inspired when I see clients continue to show up and put in the work with me. Especially witnessing clients show up in other areas of their lives, maybe in a way that they had not, prior to therapy. I believe on some level, that everyone who ends up in my office was meant to be there as well.


To rewind a bit, I’m the epitome of unexpected blends. I’m a born and raised Texan, who also flies to Poland to visit my family, as often as I can get away with. I’m the only first-generation American in my family, and that comes with it a whole unique identity. I’m also a proud Aggie living in a city of burnt orange pride and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Part of the fun of living in this weird, diverse city is opportunity to connect with people of a variety of backgrounds and upbringings. As someone who self-identifies as quirky, I enjoy how Austin owns being weird.

My career journey has led me to work with teens in a residential juvenile detention facility, university crisis hotlines, hospitals, and in various outpatient settings. This is also where my passion for working with teens and families truly took shape. Although I value the range of clients that I get the honor of working with. Mental health requires a strong support system and to be one piece of that support, regardless of setting, is extremely rewarding.

Outside of work, I may be out on hiking adventures with my pup, traveling or trying out a new coffee shop. I also devote a significant portion of my free time to serving the community through volunteer work. I’ve been involved with Junior League of Austin for the past two years, as well as a volunteer therapist with Camp Phoenix.

Just as I myself have a lived narrative, I also bear witness to my clients’ stories. Some soft, loud, bold, beautiful, painful and each unique. I get to hold space for these stories and sit with brave story tellers. If you are living a plotline you are not content with, please reach out for counseling support. You deserve to live a life that you are genuinely excited about.