Family Conversation Starters: Learning to Recognize and Manage Stress

Family Conversation Starters: Learning to Recognize and Manage Stress

We all experience stress, and naturally want to be able to provide comfort to our loved ones.

This is our responsibility, and what helps us to feel like effective parents and partners. The bigger question is whether you know when your loved ones are distressed or not.

People show stress in different ways and sometimes it’s not always easy to tell. For instance, children who are depressed often don’t look sad, instead they get mad. Active children can get overstimulated and get even more active when they are feeling out of control. Some people get very quiet, some get very loud, some get obnoxious and some get funny. We all experience it and show it in different ways.

Here are some family conversation starters to learn this information, so that we can better read cues and know when to step in and to support one another:

  1. So we all feel calm at times, and we all get stressed out at times. How do you know when you are calm and when you are stressed?
  2. Where do you experience stress? Some people feel it in their bodies, some experience it in their minds, and some in their feelings. How about in your body? (i.e. heart racing, hands and feet sweaty, muscles activated, shallow breathing). Do you experience stress in your thoughts? (i.e. same thoughts over and over again, can’t stop thinking, worrying all the time, overly focused on one thing). Do you experience stress in your feelings? (i.e. sad, tearful, anxious, angry).
  3. What causes you stress? We all have different things that trigger us. Do you feel stress when you’re in trouble? When there is tension in the house? When you are bored? When you are called a certain word? When you feel blamed for something?
  4. How well do we know the members of our family. Who of us gets angry when we are stressed? Who gets super quiet? Who worries the most in our family? Who gets focused and busy? Who can’t stop talking and gets overexcited? Which of us feels it the most in their body? Who gets funny?
  5. When there’s stress in our family, what happens to our relationships?
  6. When “family member A” is stressed, what happens to us? Who notices? Who tries to help? Who gets upset too? Who is affected by it? Who turns away and gets scarce?

We discovered that our middle daughter feels tension. Any time there’s tension in our house, in whatever relationship is present, she feels it. She’s an empath, she dislikes the feeling of tension and would prefer it if everyone was just happy and calm all the time. Once we discovered this, we developed a strategy where she can come and stand close to my husband or I, anytime she feels the pressure. If she squeezes our hand, then it’s her way of saying, “I’m too stressed out and I need help calming down.” This way we know she is experiencing emotional dysregulation and can help her feel supported and calmer and not alone in these times of distress. This can help your child identify those times and feelings, and also help you as a parent better address the situation.

Knowing how our family handles stress can empower us – and cause us to change our interactions. Whether it is reframing a conversation to help prevent stress, or calming your loved one down after they have already experienced stress, knowing what causes them stress and the best way to address it will not only help your family in this crisis, but also with any difficulty to come.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


Helping Our Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality By Understanding Our Own

Helping Our Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality By Understanding Our Own

Part of helping our kids develop healthy sexuality is looking at what we as parents are bringing to the table.

For a lot of us, the thought of talking to our kids about developing a healthy sexuality is hugely anxiety producing. Now part of that may be that it’s just new; anything thats new and never experienced before is going to inherently make us a little nervous because we can’t fully predict what’s going to happen – that’s totally normal! Also normal is that this feeling might come from a sense that we’re not equipped to have the conversation. For a lot of us, we might no have had the best examples to follow. For most of us I would imagine, our parents or caregivers or community didn’t do an adequate job talking with us about sex.

For me, this looked like my mom sitting me down over a bowl of ice cream, I had to have been 8 or so, and reading Dr. Spock’s “Where did I come from?”. It’s a picture book with funny illustrations that says an orgasm feels like “a sneeze, but much better”. I distinctly remember laughing out loud when she told me a man’s penis goes inside a woman’s vagina. I’m pretty sure I thought the whole thing was really funny at the time. As I got older though and had a lot of questions starting to build up about sex, but I never quite felt it was okay to bring up again. From my perspective, my mom sat me down very formally and basically said here’s this big secret that adults know and kids don’t and then never brought it up again. It felt very similar to when she told me that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy weren’t real. Both those secrets though had few lasting consequences in comparison to the complexity of sex. This feeling of secrecy made it difficult for me to know it was okay to ask questions when I started to have experiences around sex, like when I stumbled upon pornography watching tv late one night after my parents went to sleep, or when I hugged a boy in 8th grade and felt that he had an erection.

This feeling of not being able to ask questions forced me to get my sexual education elsewhere and what I was hearing really scared me. Though I was not raised a Christian, from an early age I actually chose decided not to have sex until marriage because I was afraid of it, though I still had some. And because I didn’t have a healthy view of myself sexually I ended up having some very damaging experiences in late high school and early college. Then I became a Christian and heard the whole “no sex before marriage” business and I REALLY became scared. I never developed an understanding of sex as being a good thing.

Needless to say when I got married, my husband and I have had to work on a few things after we got married. But the important thing is we have. Over the past six and a half years Dave and I have spent many hours in long conversations and in individual and couples counseling tending to the unhealthy patterns that developed in our sexual lives, among other things. And because of this I can stand here and confidently say that sex is a beautiful, sacred part of my life where I find joy and intimacy. And it is also something I will be journeying through for the rest of my life.

Now imagine for a minute if I hadn’t invested all of that energy coming to a more healthy place sexually, what kind of message do you think I would have offered my kids about their sexuality? If I allowed the fear of sex to be my only understanding of it? What I know is that fear breeds fear. Our kids look to us as a guide for what is safe and healthy and good and if sex is not one of those things for you right now, despite how much you might want something different for your kids, it might be difficult for them to get that message.

Your story may not look like mine. There may have been shame, abuse, confusion, anxiety, addiction or there may have been confidence and support and wholeness and self love. But whatever it was and is for you right now, we have to understand that it is going to affect the way we present sexuality to our kids. So my hope for you is that not only do you desire to look at your own sexuality for the sake of your children, but that you might be encouraged to understand yourself in this area for your own emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Some helpful questions to consider (some adapted from Parenting from the Inside Out):

  1. What did your parents, family, and community teach you about sex?

  2. What examples did you witness of sexuality?

  3. How did that information shape your view of your own sexuality?

  4. How have your childhood experiences around sexuality influenced your relationships as an adult?

  5. Are there elements of your sexual past that are particularly difficult to think about?

  6. What would you like to heal or change about the way you understand your own sexuality?

Best wishes in this important season for you and your family. We’re here to journey with you through it,

Mariah McQueen

Is _ Okay?

Is _ Okay?

I get asked this question in its various forms, especially in Christian circles, all the time.

Is maturbation, same-sex marriage, sex before marriage, pornography, etc. okay? All these difficult sex conversations can be difficult to answer as a family. Please let me preface this conversation by saying that I am not going to give you an answer at the end of this post. My hope however is to give you a little bit of a road map on how to come to a more comfortable and confident stance by giving you some questions to ask yourself (and your partner). See, when it comes to uncomfortable conversations, often times our first response is to look for a quick yes or no answer – is it okay or not? But in reality, this does little for us in the long term because it doesn’t answer the “why?” part of these conversations, which in my experience, is essential to finding lasting wholeness and creating positive habits. If you take the time to answer “why?” for yourself and your family, regardless of someone else’s opinion, you can stand firmly on yours.

So, how do we get there? First, know that it will hopefully be through a series of conversations, rather than happen overnight. On a couple of these issues, my husband I have spent months talking through their many layers. In some instances, we sought out the counsel of trusted others whose wisdom and guidance helped us find confidence in our positions. The process can be slow, which requires patience and diligence, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. You will find yourself confidently owning your convictions, knowing you put in the work to get there, which makes having conversations with your kids around these topics way less anxiety producing!

Here are some helpful questions to consider as you discuss these (and other) nuanced issues related to sex:

  1. What is your belief in the purpose of sex?

  2. What is your personal experience with _________? Is there any healing that needs to happen around that area?

  3. If you are coming from a faith background, what evidence do you see regarding God’s posture towards it?

  4. Does this action (or acceptance of an action) help you love yourself and others more freely, and does it allow you to love God more deeply and with more of yourself? (Question from Tara Owens of

  5. If it is an action, is this part of our life known? Do we have a support system outside of our family to seek guidance if issues do arise?

I want to acknowledge that these issues are nuanced and complicated in nature, making firm answers hard to find. My hope for you is that this would not bread anxiety but that you would have peace knowing you have done hard work on your journey of seeking truth.

Blessings to you!


Intensive Couples Therapy Retreats

Intensive Couples Therapy Retreats

Couples benefit so much from our Intensive Couples Therapy Retreats as it means getting an expert couples therapist to themselves for an extended period of time.

Give your relationship the gift of being assessed, and get a treatment plan that is tailored just for the two of you.

Couples therapy takes time, and getting to a couples therapist once a week for an hour, can take a lot of effort. Dealing with scheduling, getting through the traffic, running into session out of breath, can also contribute to the stress that created the couple’s problems to begin with.

If this is the case for you, consider going to an Intensive Couples Retreat in San Diego. Because here, you get to create a schedule for your retreat. So you get to come in on a weekend, or a day of the week that you pick, and put aside 4 – 6 hours per day to work on your relationship.

You will be hosted in a beautiful office space, where you have a room to yourselves during your breaks, make yourselves at comfortable on the couch in our kitchen area, bring food to put in the fridge, heat up your lunch, or enjoy the balcony and get some sunshine and fresh air.

You might wonder if you are the right couple for this experience?

We always do an assessment over the phone first, taking some time to talk with both of you, to understand what your goals are, to get an idea of your dynamic, before setting up the intensive.

Call me now to get started with setting up the intensive:

Step 1: Call me to set up the intake Assessment phone call

This starts on the phone with a 15 min conversation with each of you, we discuss your goals, your history, any injuries that have come from the relational history.


Step 2: Let’s book a time for your Intensive Couples Retreat

We will find dates that work for the three of us, and I will put that time aside. I will only charge you for the time that we spend doing therapy, and we will work on giving you needed breaks between appointments. Some couples go on a lunch break, others bring in lunch and enjoy the balcony, others go back to their hotel for a nap.

Step 3: Taking part in the Intensive

First 2 hrs in Session:

We will start together as a couple, and I will want to get to know your relationship. Where do you connect, how do each of you define closeness, when have things gone well or gone poorly.

I will then meet with each of you individually, to assess some more specific parts of your relationship: how do you each think and feel when you are feeling attacked in the relationship. What do you like about the relationship and what is not working for you. What would you change about your spouse if you could? At the end of this assessment time, you will get feedback, and we will lay out your treatment plan. Together we will decide how much of this treatment we want to get through during your time in San Diego.

Follow up:

This can happen with a therapist of your choice back in your home city. I will sign a Release of Information and share what we have done with your home therapist. Sometimes I support you as a couple with a follow up Intensive, or a follow up Online Call (using Skype or Zoom).


Let me know if you are interested in doing an Intensive with me, and we will create the schedule together!

Currently Reading: Attached

Currently Reading: Attached

I’ve recently been reading Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help you Find – and Keep – Love, and I’ve been inspired by several passages and exercises I want to share with you that could be helpful for your relationships!

“People tend to become more secure when they are in a relationship with someone secure. Security “priming” – reminding people of security enhancing experiences they’ve had – can help them to create a better sense of security”


“Often our relationships with our pets can be a helpful model for how we handle our adult relationships: “They wake us up, destroy our valuables, and demand our undivided attention, yet we tend to overlook their behaviors and feel positively towards them. We can tap into our attitudes toward our pets as a secure resource within us – we don’t assume our pets are doing things purposefully to hurt us, we don’t hold grudges…”

If you can “be inspired by a secure role model in (your) lives, (you) are often successful at adopting secure ways”

“Summarize the characteristics you would like to adopt. This will become your integrated secure role model.”


“In attachment research, ‘working model’ is a phrase that describes our basic belief system when it comes to romantic relationships- what gets you going, what shuts you down, your attitudes and expectations.”

“Research into the molecular mechanism of memory and learning reveals that whenever we recall a scene – or retrieve a certain memory to our conscious mind – we disrupt it, and by doing so, we alter it forever. Our memories are not like old books in the library, lying there dusty and unchanged; they are rather a living, breathing entity.”

“Taking the inventory is a task that should be done alone. Make sure to set aside enough quiet time to work on it thoroughly, so you really get an accurate depiction of yourself from an attachment perspective.

Start by listing in the left hand Column (1), The names of all your romantic partners, past and present. These can include people you’ve dated briefly. We suggest working vertically, one column at a time. Completing the inventory vertically encourages you to focus less on each particular scenario and to achieve an integrated picture of your working model across relationships. The more information you gather, the better.

In Column 2, write what you remember about the relationships; what it was like and what things stand out most when you try to recall your time together. Once you write down your general recollections of the relationship, Column 3 allows you to take a closer look and identify specific scenarios that contribute to activation/deactivation of your attachment system.

Column 4 asks how you respond to these situations. What did you do? What were you thinking? How did you feel? The lines below the inventory are provided to help you recall those reactions.

Column 5 is a crucial next step. You will need to reassess these experiences from an attachment perspective to gain insight into the issues that affected your relationships. What attachment issues affected your reactions: Protest behavior? Deactivation? Refer to the lists as a guide.

In Column 6, you’re asked to consider ways in which your reaction – now translated into attachment principles – hurts you and gets in the way of your happiness.

Finally, Column 7 prompts you to consider new secure ways of handling these situations using a security-enhancing role. In your life and the secure principles we outline in this book…”



Finding a Good Divorce Therapist for your Family

Finding a Good Divorce Therapist for your Family

A Divorce Therapist turned us away? Why? When we clearly need help!

It’s confusing and frustrating when you can see that your child needs emotional support and yet you can’t find a divorce therapist to work with you. You’re in the throws of a divorce, and life is already challenging enough, without someone turning you away. So why don’t therapists agree to see you right away, and why are they so specific in wanting to set things up in a specific way?

 1. Consent to treatment

A Marriage and Family Therapist in California cannot legally treat your child without your parental consent. When you are married, the consent of one parent works, though in my opinion no therapist should be working with a child before meeting both parents. It’s a matter of respect, and of understanding who your child is in the context of your family. When you are separating or divorcing, the matter of consent can change. Most often parents who are divorcing, will share legal custody, but not always. A therapist can’t take your word for this, but will need to see court documents to understand who has the legal right for your child to enter treatment.

2. Creating a safe and healing environment for your child, means not alienating either of the parents

Even when you have legal consent, it’s good practice for the therapist to at least try to obtain consent from both parents. If a therapist meets with your child, and your ex finds out that it was done behind their back without their permission, they will likely be upset, and will not view the therapist is trustworthy.

Consider for a moment how you would feel, if a therapist met with your child, and you not only had NO idea that this meeting was taking place, but the therapist didn’t once contact you to introduce themselves, and to invite you to be a part of the process. It’s alienating!

A therapist meeting with the child without letting both parents know, is alienating that parent. This is likely to undermine the child’s therapy in various ways. Firstly, the therapist has taken sides, and will not be considered credible if they ever go to court on your behalf. Secondly, without hearing from both parents, it’s harder for the therapist to understand the environment your child is a part of, and understanding who your child is, is a big part of therapy. Thirdly, if the parents aren’t in agreement about parenting decisions, then presumably your child is already caught in the middle, and feeling this stress.

The whole point initiating therapy is to give your child a neutral, and a safe space, where they can process their pain. 

Now imagine this child is introduced to a neutral, safe space of a comforting play therapy office and starts a relationship with a therapist, with whom they bond, and then they are pulled out of treatment or are conflicted about being there. This is likely to happen when the excluded parent gives the child negative messages about therapy. The child feels guilty about being in treatment, they know their parent doesn’t want them there, and they feel confused about trusting the therapist. Now there is nothing that the therapist can do. The therapist rushed into treating the child, without first trying to get both parents on board, and is now stuck.

 3. Ways to Move Foward

Understand that the therapist is doing what is in the child’s best interest, by trying to get the buy in from both parents. Give the therapist a little time to reach out to your ex, and to try to get their permission. If this doesn’t happen, know that in your court proceedings, you can ask the court to rule on this. In the meantime, there is nothing stopping you from seeking treatment, from getting parenting support. The therapist can work with your child indirectly, by giving you the resources to make a difference in their life. Remember that you have the stronger relationship with your child, and that you can be the one to help them with their adjustment.


It’s excruciating to need help, and to feel turned away. Try to imagine how you would feel if someone took your child to a doctor for you, and then the doctor refused to talk with you, and to let you know what was going on. How would you react in this situation? Your ex is likely to do the same, and this simply makes an already difficult situation more contentious, and the person who will feel it the most, is your child. Understand that the therapist needs to remain neutral, and to be available for your child. By setting up a structure with boundaries, might mean you have to wait a little for treatment, but it’s ultimately in the best interest of the family well-being. At the end of the day, your child needs both parents in their life (unless a parent is abusive and dangerous). If your divorce is contentious, the therapist might have a chance to bring you into a co-parenting relationship during this process of tapping into the concern and love you both feel for your child’s well-being.