Interview with Alana DiMario, LMHC. Alana is a licensed therapist who specializes in children and family relationships as well as helping women and couples through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. Alana has been working with children and families for more than 15 years and has specialized training in family systems, trauma and loss, childbirth, postpartum adjustment, newborn care, parenting, and infant and child development.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your work?
I am a therapist in private practice, specializing in kids and families as well as new parents and couples. In addition, I run community-based groups for new mothers and developmental play groups for infants and young toddlers. I have been working with children and families for more than 15 years, and has specialized training in family systems, trauma and loss, childbirth, postpartum adjustment, newborn care, parenting, and infant and child development.
2. Have you noticed any differences in your work since November 9, 2016?
Absolutely. People who are struggling with anxiety have been having more difficulty, and the current political climate is a direct contributor. Things that were previously at a lower level have been turned way up for many people. I see this as a combination of things that will negatively impact people directly due to planned policy changes (loss of access to healthcare is a big one, changes to things like special education services is another) as well as the overall divisiveness and realization that friends and family might not share their same values.
However, on the other side, the election has led to many people becoming more engaged in things that matter to them, which is a great coping skill for anxiety. If you are going to worry about something, the best thing you can do is make a plan about it and exercise your influence in your corner of the world to the best of your ability.
3. Many families are now attempting to be more politically engaged, which naturally means including children. What professional insights can you offer them?
- Start with age-appropriate basics. It’s important for kids to have the basic framework and context for how our government (is supposed to) work, and how individual citizens interact with that. Read the Constitution with them, talk about how the amendments came about. Watch Schoolhouse Rock videos on YouTube about the three branches of government and how bills become laws. Anchor your activism efforts within that framework.
- Relate your views on politics to values your family has, whether they are rooted in a religious tradition or a secular one. This could be as simple as “we believe that helping other people when we can makes us all stronger,” or “we believe that love is love.”
- Answer questions honestly, but don’t answer more than they have asked. If you need time to answer a difficult question, tell your child that you want to get the best information for them and make time to come back to their question within a day or so.
- Help your child recognize that progress sometimes takes a while. Sometimes children can get discouraged if they become invested in something that doesn’t happen right away (also a good reason to reference back to the frameworks of government, above). It can be helpful to share stories with them about big changes that have happened over time, like women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement, via age appropriate books or movies.
- Encourage your child to think about a problem they would like to see changed in their world, and help them pursue that change. Give them the autonomy to identify an issue in your household, neighborhood, school, or community that they would like to influence, and help them make a plan to address it. Maybe it’s getting all family members on board with being better at turning off lights, or cleaning up an area on your street that has been littered on, or writing a letter to the school administration to make a case for why silent lunch is a terrible idea. Or maybe its fundraising to contribute to a larger issue. The idea is that your child can be empowered to be a change agent instead of feeling like a passive observer, which sets the stage for future civic engagement.
- Recognize burnout in yourself and in them. Take time off and focus on other things as needed. Modeling the ability to create healthy boundaries is essential.
4. The Woman Project is focused on passing the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), which would codify the tenets of Roe v. Wade and repeal several unconstitutional laws that are still on the books in Rhode Island. Passing this legislation would mean abortion remains safe and legal in Rhode Island, no matter what happens with the federal courts. Knowing that The Woman Project supporters want to include their children in advocating for this legislation, what advice do you have for them?
As a woman and citizen and mother who supports full reproductive health access, my advice is to go back to that big-picture context when talking about it to your children – and do talk about it with your children! Children are inquisitive by nature and capable of processing more than we often give them credit for. When we don’t talk about things with our kids that we know they will observe and hear about out in the world, this signals to them that a topic is off limits. We as the adults need to open that line of communication and normalize talking about hard topics so our kids can feel comfortable engaging with us later on.
Though the law is about abortion access, the issues at stake are much larger than that. Especially in the media, reproductive healthcare access has been framed as a moral and religious issue, and the anti-choice movement has capitalized on the misogynist and patriarchal system that has long painted anything related to female sexuality as shameful and secret. To be effective advocates, we as adults need to put this issue in its proper context and work through any hesitation or internalized shame we might feel about talking about these issues.
This is where the intersection of two parts of my work come together. On the one side, helping kids feel like empowered actors in their own lives, and helping parents focus on the priorities they have for their children via my therapy practice. On the other, seeing the struggles that many women have during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period that are related to feeling disempowered with their choices about things that are happening to their own bodies and problematic interactions with providers and systems that don’t listen to or believe them. The current research and statistics regarding how medical providers dismiss and downplay the symptoms women describe and the resulting maternal mortality rates are horrifying, even moreso when specifically looking at the experiences of women of color. Add to this the larger current climate of revelations about systematic sexual abuse within powerful institutions, and look at how it all connects to illustrate where our laws and institutions and their treatment of women and kids don’t match up with the world we want our kids to grow up in.
How do we teach our children that they are in charge of their own bodies, and that they will be heard and believed about their experiences, if there are laws that specifically prohibit people with a uterus from actually having bodily autonomy? That’s an easy place to start: We believe that everyone should be in charge of what happens to their own bodies.
How do we teach our children to value and respect their bodies if we view reproductive health and the parts involved with those normal, human processes as shameful or not to be talked about? Normalizing these things and making this more visible in the world is essential. Having a uterus isn’t something to be embarrassed about. The processes of menstruation, conception, gestation, and childbirth should not be mysterious to our daughters OR our sons.
Another piece of important context is to teach our children that despite our current beliefs that men and women are equal, for a long time it was only the men who made the laws, and too often still that is the case. What this means is that for a long time women were not able to speak from a place of power to advocate for their own needs, and there are a lot of laws from that time that need to be changed. Elementary school aged kids can understand this: We believe it’s important for the laws to keep up with the times, and that the laws that exist in Rhode Island should give the same rights as federal laws.
For older children, it’s also a good opportunity to talk about the fact that our country was founded on the ideals that government must operate free from religion. Individuals have the right to make decisions that are best for them, but they do not have the right to impose those beliefs on someone else in a way that infringes on their bodily autonomy.
Older children will also be able to understand this issue as it relates to the concept of economic justice and equality. Having the choice of when or whether a woman becomes a mother is a crucial factor in her ability to achieve economic stability.
In addition, talk to them in an age appropriate way about your own thinking and beliefs on this topic, and what components of it resonate the most with you and why. Allow the space for them to come to their own conclusion on this issue, or any others, and for them to choose the parts that resonate the most with them. Unfortunately many kids don’t receive a good civics education in school, but putting advocacy work like this in that larger framework for them is a great way for them to learn!