This month’s Meet a Mom is Westchester-based Dr. Sarah Bren, Clinical Psychologist + Parenting Specialist – and she’s not your average expert in the field! Although she comes with impressive credentials that label her a parenting expert, one of her core beliefs is that YOU are the expert on your child, your family, your values + your goals. I had so much fun getting to know Sarah and learning more about her approach to her work and her own family challenges. She provides a bunch of free tools and resources on her blog in addition to parenting workshops that can help you navigate parenthood, at whatever stage you’re in. She also has an upcoming 6-week course for new + expecting parents focused on the 1st year of parenthood called The Authentic Parent. I hope you enjoy getting to know Sarah, her work and her favorite places around the Sound Shore as much as I did!
Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
My husband and I are both originally from Minnesota. I came out to NY for undergrad and have been here ever since. We moved to New Rochelle from Brooklyn two years ago and are so happy we made the move!
How did you decide to settle in the Sound Shore?
My sister married a New Rochelle native and when they moved out here we loved coming out to visit. Once we had our first child we knew we wanted to be close to family so we moved down the street! Our kids are super close in age and love growing up together.
How many kids do you have and what are their ages?
We have a 2.5 year old son and a 14 month old daughter.
What do you love about living in the Sound Shore?
We love the sense of community and the slower pace compared to the city. We love to walk into Larchmont village and to the farmers market on the weekends and play in the backyard–a real luxury after city living!
What are your go-to restaurants and shops in the Sound Shore?
We love Harbour House and Stanz in Larchmont. We haven’t been going out to eat since the pandemic started, but we try to order from time to time to support local businesses. We would be so sad to see either of those places close.
What’s your favorite way to spend time with your family? We are definitely homebodies. Playing in the kiddie pool in the backyard, going for walks with our dog Wilson, and having picnic lunches or grilling in the backyard.
How do you spend “me time”?
I won’t lie, finding “me time” while working from home and caring for our kids full time during a pandemic has not been easy! But when I can, I like to sit outside after the kids go to bed and enjoy a glass of wine and some fresh air. I also try to find “me time” in the little moments whenever possible–so when I take a shower, to really enjoy the alone time, or when I’m cooking dinner (one of my favorite things to do) to really be present and find pleasure in the experience.
How did you get into your field? When did you know Clinical Psychology + Parenting Support were your career path?
I started out my clinical career at a major hospital in the city, working with an underserved population with a lot of trauma. I worked with patients who had experienced pervasive childhood trauma, disrupted attachment, and limited exposure to healthy coping strategies. In order to get better, they needed to learn how to connect to their own experience in the moment, be able to name what was happening, calm their nervous systems, identify the appropriate coping strategy from the tool box I helped them to build, and use it effectively.
When I became a parent, I began really studying the psychology of parenting. It became clear to me that the work I had been doing with my adult patients was in many ways related to the kind of work I was doing with my son in order to help him to feel safe and secure in his relationships, to feel confident in his ability to move through his emotions–no matter how big or uncomfortable they might be, and to develop a solid sense of who he is as a person.
It was this awareness that led to a pivotal shift in the focus of my clinical work. If I can help parents to help their children feel safe, secure, understood, and validated, I would be helping those families to support the kind of healthy childhood development that leads to lifelong emotional wellbeing and the capacity to build meaningful relationships throughout life. I also found that these practices help to reduce the stress, pressure, doubt, and martyrdom that is so often experienced in today’s mainstream parenting approaches, which by extension helps to reduce psychological distress in parents as well, resulting in families that are healthier, calmer, and more aligned with one another. I feel really grateful to get to do this work, because I honestly feel like it can make parents and children’s lives better.
What is the number one concern parents come to you with when it comes to their parenting journey?
I see a lot of parents who are concerned about a particular aspect of their child’s behavior (maybe it’s anxiety, behavioral outbursts, sibling stress) and the work often starts with helping the parents to assess how developmentally appropriate some of their behavioral expectations are for their kids. I find that I do a lot of normalizing for parents–which I think actually underlies the real commonality in the work I do with parents: helping them feel more confident in their ability to accurately read the needs of their child in the moment, and have tools and language for guiding their child towards expressing that need in more regulated and behaviorally productive ways. That’s one of the reasons why I prefer working with parents or families rather than just the child. The child and their behaviors are part of a system–you have to look at the whole system.
What’s your favorite part of owning your own business?
I love that I get to work with families on a schedule and platform that works for them, rather than having to follow “the rules.” I can do home visits when a child is ambivalent about engaging in therapy on their own, I can meet with new parents virtually when they aren’t ready to find childcare just so they can trek to a therapy appointment, I can work with parents on the timetable that works for them because parents need to be creative and flexible with how they use their time! Obviously now, especially, during a pandemic, I am grateful that my work can transition to virtual support and I am still able to give my clients the same level of support and care that I always have.
Are there any parenting books or podcasts you recommend?
I love everything written by Daniel Siegel. I often recommend parents read The Whole-Brain Child when we start working together. It does such a beautiful job of explaining how a child’s brain works and how understanding the brain gives parents key insights into their behaviors and emotions, and what to do with that information. My work is also heavily influenced by the parenting philosophy of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) and I often recommend Janet Lansbury’s podcast Unruffled or her books Elevating Childcare and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame to parents. If you want to really go to the source though, Magda Gerber is the creator of RIE and her book Your Self Confident Baby is incredible.
Has COVID-19 impacted your business?
It has definitely forced me to get creative with how I engage with families, especially when the treatment includes a young child (any parents familiar with distance learning can probably relate to the challenges inherent in engaging children in zoom therapy!) But I’ve actually been impressed with how many of the kids I’ve been working with have adapted to the virtual work quite well.
How do you juggle motherhood, parenting and your professional life? Any tips for keeping it all together?
The best insight I can share is probably that I don’t really juggle it all that well and it’s really okay if you’re a parent who feels like you can’t juggle it very well either–this is especially true in a pandemic, but I think It’s also true in general. I don’t think it is all that realistic to expect ourselves to be able to “have it all” and be a “supermom,” and for some women that pressure can really feel toxic. Juggling is hard, and it comes with sacrifices and sadness at times. I think the most important thing is to be honest with ourselves about what is our biggest priority in the moment, and also give ourselves permission to shift that priority from time to time (or even from day to day).
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from another mom?
When my second child was born I experienced a lot of guilt–I felt like I wasn’t giving my first what I had been giving him before his sister was born, and I felt like I wasn’t giving my daughter what I had been able to give her older brother when he was born. I felt like I was failing everyone. A close mom friend reminded me that “your first gets your undivided attention, but your second gets your confidence and expertise.” This reframe really helped me to start seeing what I was giving my kids rather than what I wasn’t.