Healthy Shame and Toxic Shame
January 19, 2016 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on Healthy Shame and Toxic Shame

shame2There are two types of shame. Appropriate and toxic.

Shame is defined as:

1.     the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another:
2.     susceptibility to this feeling

Healthy shame (or embarrassment) is necessary. It guides us. It corrects our behavior. After yelling at your child–“Wow, I really lost it. I am not the worst parent in the world but I don’t want to do that again!” After over eating–“I totally pigged out tonight, I feel crummy. I need to be more careful to stop eating when I feel full. ” Getting back a paper–“I hate that I got a C on this paper, next time I need to start on it a little earlier.”

Not excusing yourself from accountability but not trashing yourself.

Take toxic or unhealthy shame.  Everyone goes there sometimes. “I am the worst parent!” “I am a loser”, “I am so stupid”. What purpose does this serve? Absolutely none. Toxic shame is an exaggerated, negative and absolute place. It is self-flagellating. It is totally self-involved.  We are lost in an abyss of self loathing and we are not really available to those around us.

Terry Real, an expert on healthy relationships, uses the graphic above to plot toxic shame and grandiosity on a “y” axis.  This visual is a helpful way to conceptualize sinking into toxic shame. Remembering that it’s self-absorbed, or narcissistic, you can more easily yank yourself out and get back to a more grounded place.

When you go to that painful place, remind yourself– “I am in toxic shame, I am being mean to myself and it is also very self-absorbed. I’ve got to get to a more balanced place.” You will get better and better at staying grounded and teaching yourself and your children the difference between learning from mistakes and punishing yourself.

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Breathing in Mindfulness
August 4, 2015 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on Breathing in Mindfulness

MeeshTreesblogBy Akanksha Sadana-Raswant, Founder of Wholistic Tutoring 

Mindfulness is a powerful word that surrounds us daily, but what does it really mean?

Mindfulness is purposefully bringing awareness to the present moment, and as a result, paying attention to the full experience. Children and parents can learn to embrace their emotions and deepen their knowledge by spending five to ten minutes a day engaging in mindfulness.

In a city where we constantly live in a New York minute – running from place to place, sipping coffee in one hand while emailing with the other, multitasking within multitasking to create the most efficient day, we rarely take moments to focus on ourselves and notice how we are feeling in the present moment. Children pick up on this energy and become overstimulated and stressed. How do we help children stay calm and positive when the adults in their lives are frantic, overscheduled, and exhausted?

It begins with you, the parent. Much easier said than done, but give it a try!

Start with breathing…big deep breaths. It is hard to imagine, but sometimes we forget to breathe properly within our chaotic-filled days.

While you breathe, try to focus solely on your breath. Notice the movement your breath makes within your body. Is your breath deep or shallow today? Is your heart rate slowing down as you breathe? Be kind to yourself, because paying attention to your breath is difficult! Be patient with yourself, because this process takes time. Try to write down the effects this exercise has on you, or make a mental note on the “before and after” that occurs within your mind and body.

For children, the practice of mindfulness starts with breathing too. Have your child sit on a chair or lie down comfortably with their eyes open or closed. Ask them to place their hand on their heart or stomach while they breathe. Touching a body part is a gentle reminder to keep their attention on the flow of their breath. Reassure them that it is natural for their minds to wander, and the intention of this exercise is to catch themselves when their mind is drifting. The goal is to bring the focus back on the movement of their breath.

Breathing sends a signal to our body to calmly and gently slow down. With this activity, we start to pay more attention to ourselves, becoming more conscious of our body and giving more opportunities to notice the emotions that manifest themselves physically. This is the first step to achieving increased self-awareness and purposefully being present.

Happy Breathing!

 

Akanksha Sadana-Raswant is the Founder of Wholistic Tutoring, a tutoring practice that provides academic tutoring with the option to engage in mindfulness for children in grades Kindergarten through Seventh. For more information, please visit www.wholistictutoring.com

 

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Marriage Vows are Really Parent Vows
May 11, 2015 · Posted in Fatherhood, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Marriage Vows are Really Parent Vows

When times are good with your children, you can’t even imagine not wanting to be a parent. When difficulties arise, from the typical and small, like constant temper tantrums, to the  unthinkable, like a diagnosis of Asperger’s, or juvenile diabetes, or your teenager in the grip of an eating disorder, your mettle as a parent is tested to the limits.

You may wish for an escape–that is natural. You may seriously doubt your capacity to parent, but as with nothing else, you are committed for life. You are on the journey no matter what. This lead me to think that the marriage vows, which can be and are retracted for many of us, really belong to our children.

“I take you______to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, till death us do part.”

It is to our children that we make this vow. Everything else in life can really be changed.

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Being Right
June 25, 2014 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Marriage, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off on Being Right

The Curse and Seduction of Being Right

by Lisa Merlo Booth

 

Many people struggle with the curse of being right.  When people struggle with being right it feels as if you’re constantly in an argument about the “facts.”  Sometimes it can feel as if you’re talking with a lawyer instead of a friend or partner.  For example, you might ask your partner to lower their voice and they respond with, “My voice isn’t loud.  I was just being passionate.”  Or perhaps you start to tell a story about work and say, “When I left home at 8 a.m.…” and your partner quickly butts in and corrects you with, “Well, actually you left after 8 a.m.”  Whatever the circumstances are, you feel as if you’re in an endless battle.  All you want to do is share your thoughts or make a request, yet the other person is busy checking your facts instead of listening to your message.

Needless to say, if you’ve ever been on the other side of this dynamic, it can be incredibly frustrating.  If you’re the one constantly “correcting” or arguing the facts, then you can be incredibly frustrating.

Stop correcting and start listening.

Being around someone who is constantly telling others how they’re wrong blocks intimacy and connection.  Ironically though, many people get caught in the being right trap…because being right is seductive.  After all, people think, isn’t it important to have the right facts?  If my partner says he’s angry that I was late for our dinner on Saturday and I know we went out on Friday—shouldn’t I correct him and tell him I was late on Friday, not Saturday?  After all, I’m right—I happen to know for a fact that we went out on Friday because Saturday was our son’s soccer game and we ate dinner on the road while driving to his game.  Shouldn’t I correct him when I know I’m right?

No.

The seduction of being right is that often our information…is right.  We’re not making it up, we’re not giving false information and we’re honestly correcting wrong information.  What’s wrong with that, we wonder?  Several things are wrong with that.  To start with, when we’re so ultra-focused on arguing the facts, we miss the bigger point.  In the dinner example, my husband was upset that I was late.  My focusing on the “accurate” day is irrelevant—even though my information may be correct.  Second, if I’m busy critiquing what he says, then I’m shutting down the conversation.  If I shut down the conversation then I’m blocking repair.  It’s often only a matter of time before people give up trying to talk with someone who seldom listens and instead corrects the minute details.  At some point we just say forget it.When it comes to healthy relationships, remember to not get lost in the details and instead hear the main message.  If you’re stuck on critiquing the messenger, s/he is likely to stop relaying messages.  When that happens, your relationship is in trouble.  The other person gets tired of being blocked repeatedly and in the end they often just turn away.  It’s in your best interest to have the courage to stop getting lost in the details and instead hear the message…and fix your part in the situation.  Insisting on being right is damaging.  Don’t give in to the seduction.

 

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Tapping into Our Best Adult Selves: A Short Breathing Practice
June 10, 2014 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on Tapping into Our Best Adult Selves: A Short Breathing Practice

Here are the core emotional qualities of our best adult selves.

Calm, Compassionate, Curious, Connected, Confident, Creative, Courageous, Clear, Patience, Perspective, Perseverance, Presence

When we can lead our lives from this essential self we have healthier relationships, make better choices, and feel more flexible and calm while we ride the waves of life. These qualities make a great leader, and what is a parent, if not a leader?

Though we are rarely in a state of feeling all of the above qualities, we do our best job as parents when we have a combo of at least a few. Cultivating and strengthening  these feelings helps when daily tangles with children leave you frustrated, helpless or angry.

Here is an exercise to develop these emotional states:

Take a full ten minutes when you won’t be interrupted, shut off your phone, and get in a comfortable position. Notice your breath. Is it shallow, or fast, or deep or jagged? Then take 25 inhales and exhales and try to even out the rhythm. Scan your body from head to toe. Notice every sensation. Tension in your jaw? A rumbling stomach? Tightness in your lower back? Imagine sending breath to that area. Consciously try to release tension in any tight area. When you realize that your mind has gone on a tangent — planning, worrying or problem solving, just take note and try to gently come back to your breath. You may notice a sense of lightness, or relaxation. Check and see if you have access to a deeper sense of calm, patience, and compassion for yourself. Even if it only lasts a moment, this more spacious place is where our best parenting flows. Memorize the feeling in your body. You can actually call it up at other times when you feel more riled or triggered. The ups and downs of parenting can be brutal – being able to tap into a more balanced state is a is like a built in oasis. Try it!

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Are You Happy? Considering the Lobster Within
July 26, 2011 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Mental Health · Permalink · Comments Off on Are You Happy? Considering the Lobster Within

by Bethany Saltman

A few weeks ago, Azalea, T, T’s parents, and I returned from a spring break vacation to Saint Thomas. Since we were traveling with two of Azalea’s most doting and eager caretakers—her grandparents—I was actually able to do some reading, includingConsider the Lobster, a book of essays by David Foster Wallace, the much admired, and very depressed writer who killed himself in 2008.

It was around Day Three of vacation when I found myself alone, on the beach in a lounge chair, with Wallace’s book. From my chair, I watched random kids make sand castles, and heard some vague, depersonalized whining calling out over the smooth sound of waves breaking along the white sand. I read a little about the Maine Lobster Festival that Wallace attended and wrote about, his clever, but not too clever, observations of the visitors, the vendors, the whole vacation enterprise. I had a few thoughts of my own about my particular circumstance. I kept reading. T and I had been getting up early every morning to have some time alone and to do zazen at the beach before everyone woke up. So I was tired, but not at all fatigued or irritated by the wish that I were not tired. I read about whether or not lobsters feel pain. And then Wallace’s questions like, What is pain? Consider the Lobster. Just sleepy. Staring into the water and the pale yellow light, shadowless, over the ocean. I love the feeling of getting soaked in sun, so I allowed myself a little that, read some more, then started seriously sweating, so I moved my chair beneath a palm tree to get a little shade. A hot breeze. Staring into the sea. Drifting…

Consider the lobster.

And then. It wasn’t a dream, but a waking dream-like weirdness.

Of no longer just considering the lobster, but being the lobster!

Not in some literal way, like Kafka’s giant human beetle, but deeply, a flash of ancestral innocence, the part of me that is un-evolved, reptilian, simple, and fierce. Technically, lobsters are not reptiles, they are arthopods—insects—exoskeletal, antennaed, but as Wallace writes, “Like most arthropods, they date from the Jurassic period [otherwise known as the Age of The Ruling Reptiles], biologically so much older than mammalia that they might as well be from another planet.” Once I shook off the strangely soothing and kind of hilarious feeling of actually experiencing my most primitive self, I knew what was going on. It was something about happiness.

There are endless ways to understand our human lives, and since the development of sophisticated brain scans, neurological explanations have become popular, and I see the appeal. Instead of one brain, we actually have three, what scientists call a triune brain, and these three aspects correlate to our evolution into the large-skulled, thin-hipped, bipedal creatures we are today. The most evolved, human part of the brain is the cortex, the wrinkly exterior that we see on the outside, and this is the place where we can (and I am going to way oversimplify here) reason, plan, argue, etc. Just beneath that exterior layer is our mammalian brain—the limbic system—our emotional center, and this is where we can feel, remember and crave. And beneath that layer is our reptilian brain, where it all began, which is where we fight, flee, digest, and regulate basic things like breathing. These parts of our brain express themselves all the time, of course, in everything we do. And as a Zen practitioner, my practice is to bring awareness (and where that resides in the three part-brain I don’t know!) to the ways I am moving through the different states of being. When I am cold, on guard, and singular, that’s me, the reptile. When I rise above it all, make sense of suffering, that’s me, the human. When I am happy in my motherhood, I am resting in my mammalian nature, taking care of my warm, hairy, needy, adorable little offspring.

The crazy thing is to realize that this mammalian connection is a life or death situation. If babies are not touched, they actually die. If not attuned to by their caregivers, at least to a good-enough degree, they really suffer. And they grow into adults who can’t attune to their babies. We know where this leads (lizards raising lizards).

And yet, who can really know what happens inside a person? Or why a David Foster Wallace would hang himself in the house he knew his wife would soon enter. It is tempting to assume that his deeply curious, passionate, even, exploration of what happens when a lobster is thrown into a pot of hot water, is a body scan of his own day to day. He writes:

“However stuporous the lobster is from the trip home, for instance, it tends to come alarmingly to life when placed in boiling water. If you’re tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container’s sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster’s fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature’s claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around.”

And while he is willing to allow us the discomfort of descriptions like this, he rather concludingly states, “Since pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything’s pain but our own.”

I know what he means, but I think he’s missing something. Something big, not just about misery, but about joy, and ennui, and absolutely everything, for that matter. We may not have direct access, but we sure are affected.

Azalea asks me all the time if I am happy, especially, of course, when she knows I am not, like after knocking over her juice for the third time in one breakfast. Her gaze into my face sharpens, and she kind of sings: Mama, are you happy? Sad, angry, upset? Frustrated? Disappointed? No amount of clarification soothes her (no honey, I’m just frustrated) because she knows I am pissed, especially when I have reverted to my reptilian state of being so irritated (i.e. threatened) that my capacity to feel anything is compromised. And that quick coldness is deeply threatening to our connection and thus, fundamentally, her survival.

As a human adult, my happiness is my business. And I guess I can resort to despair as I darn well please. But as a mammalian mother, my happiness is the juice of evolution. And seeing that connection clearly helps me come to life before being thrown into the pot.

This article first appeared in Chronogram Magazine on May 28, 2011.

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Has the World Gone Mad?
June 28, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Has the World Gone Mad?

You can always count on the NYT for a splashy parenting story. This one is a real doozy. The Times reports in, “Push for A’s in Private School is Keeping Costly Tutors Busy” that some parents are paying tutors amounts equal to their child’s private school tuition! Since it is hard to believe, here is a quote from the article-

“Prepping”…did not start the week before the exams, the mother pointed out. She said she had paid Mr. Iyer’s company $750 to $1,500 each week this school year for 100-minute sessions on Liberal Studies, a total of about $35,000 — just shy of Riverdale’s $38,800 tuition.

Last year, she said, her tutoring bills hit six figures, including year-round SAT preparation from Advantage Testing at $425 per 50 minutes; Spanish and math help from current and former private school teachers at $150 an hour; and sessions with Mr. Iyer for Riverdale’s equally notorious interdisciplinary course Constructing America, at $375 per 50 minutes.

Forget high school, let’s focus on toddlerhood tutoring. In Child-Psych.org, a terrific blog on parenting and child development research the author writes:

Junior Kumon program enrolls students from two to five years of age and primarily utilizes a drill and kill methodology designed to provide early reading and math enrichment.  The primary problem that I saw was that the author could find no evidence that this method actually leads to these little people  growing into big people with greater chances for professional success.  In fact, the research overall seems to be lacking.

On the other hand we have plenty of research that shows the ill effects of hyper-focus on performance in children. Jean Twenge, research psychologist and author of Living In the Age Of Entitlement, analyzed the results of years of study on whether people feel that their sense of control over life comes from the internal or external forces. Intrinsic or internal goals are those that have to do with one’s own development as a person–such as becoming competent in a chosen endeavor and developing a meaningful philosophy of life. Extrinsic goals include goals of high income, status, and perfect appearance. Scores shifted dramatically for children aged 9 to 14 as well as for college age students from 1960 – 2002.  The average young person in 2002 was more External than were 80% of young people in the 1960s. The rise in externality 42-year period showed the same linear trend as did the rise in depression and anxiety in children and teens.

“Twenge’s own theory is that the generational increases in anxiety and depression are related to a shift from “intrinsic” to “extrinsic” goals. Twenge cites evidence that young people today are, on average, more oriented toward extrinsic goals and less oriented toward intrinsic goals than they were in the past. For example, a poll conducted annually of college freshmen shows that most students today list “being well off financially” as more important to them than “developing a meaningful philosophy of life,” while the reverse was true in the 1960s and ’70s.”

If parents continue communicating to children that worth is in their performance by spending untold sums of money for tutoring, when the child is already at the top of the class, or that math skills must be learned as young as two years old by signing them up for kindergarten Kumon, they are not helping fight the tide of American culture that says your worth is in how pretty, rich and skinny you are, and where you go to school. Our children need our balanced perspective, a focus on loving the person they are, not on their accomplishments.

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Healing Our “Connective Tissue”
May 19, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off on Healing Our “Connective Tissue”

Healing our “Connective Tissue” by Carrie Krawiec, LMFT

Yogis have long known the healing power of turning into oneself and deeply stretching one’s muscles and ligaments — while also stretching one’s mental focus, tuning out the static and noise of the world outside. This practice, thousands of years old, has far-reaching physical, mental, and spiritual benefits for the individual, and it fosters a sense of community and fellowship for the group.

In Yin Yoga class, practitioners hold nonmuscular poses to delve into connective tissue, healing joints, tendons, and ligaments. Recently, the instructor said in a slow, smooth voice, “There is a reason why there are only 10 of you here this morning.. We live in a society that does not value turning into ourselves, focusing on our values, or taking the actions necessary to facilitate our intentions.” How true. We live in a culture that instead turns out or tunes out; we turn to iPads and smartphones to get relief from daily burdens.

Perhaps this observation resonated so deeply with me because, as a marriage and family therapist, I often see the breakdown of “connective tissue” in individuals, couples, and families. No one is shocked to hear that Americans have the highest rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and obesity in the world. Turning out and away from our burdens naturally leads us to seek relief from outside. This temporary relief may come in the form of food, alcohol, prescriptions, hours spent on Facebook or Farmville, gambling, shopping binges, or infidelity. Such activities damage our “connective tissue” to our unique values and intentions — and prohibit us from taking the actions to reach our goals. Likewise, these activities also damage the “connective tissue” of our relationships with those we hold closest.

Just as the practice of yoga can be strenuous and challenging, the practice of turning in to ourselves will likely be painful and difficult at times.

Just as yoga helps the body to melt away soreness and tension, shifting our focus to our true values and needs will help to ease the emptiness and anxiety that often cause us to look for external solutions.

Whether it’s within the practice of yoga or within the context of the individual or family, the act of turning inward involves behavioral, emotional, and cognitive adjustments.  An initial — and rudimentary — behavioral change is simply to turn off everything electronic. Silence the radio and cell phone on the way to work, and ask your child to turn off his iPod or DSI. The silence will help you hear your own worries, questions, intentions, and goals — and those of your child or partner.  Emotionally, make an effort to be patient, positive, and open, both with yourself and others. Leave denial, defensiveness, judgment, excuses, criticism, resentments, and competition at the door. Remind yourself of what you admire about yourself or your child/partner.  What are your/his/her strengths? As you gain strength, you may consider asking yourself,  “What can I learn from this? ” or “What is my part in this problem? ”

As we begin to heal the “connective tissue” in our bodies and our relationships, we can hope for a society that is more sensitive to the needs of the individual and the community. If we look inward for solutions, we can aspire to be part of a society with less substance abuse, mental illness, divorce, violence, and crime.

Read more: http://addictionrecoveryreality.com/healing_connective_tissue.html#ixzz1LaYKgzvV

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Women in Relationships: The Five Biggest To Do’s!
May 12, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Mental Health, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off on Women in Relationships: The Five Biggest To Do’s!

by Lisa Merlo Booth

•    Listen to your gut. Too many women ignore their instincts.  We need to learn how to tune into that voice that tells us something is off.  If something feels off, it usually is.  Check it out, don’t tune it out.  In my experience, this voice is usually right on—even when others swear it’s not.  (Note:  the only caveat to this is if you tend to be suspicious, jealous or untrusting to begin with.  If this is the case, then you need to get more data and ask yourself if your jealousy is at work here or are the facts supporting your suspicions).

 

•    Ask for what you want, not what you think you’ll get. Too many women base their requests on what they believe the other person will be willing to do.  Your requests should be based on what you want—that’s why they are called requests.  Do not dummy down your request because you don’t think the other person will want to fulfill it.  Ask for what you truly want and then celebrate the yeses you get and learn to accept the nos.  If the nos far outweigh the yeses, decide how you want to handle that imbalance and then step in and speak to it.

•    Share what you want to share, not what you think others want to hear. If a loved one asks you how your day was or something similar, share about your day if you want to.  Don’t silence yourself because you think the other person won’t be interested.  Speak about what you care about and know that if the other person cares about you, s/he will be happy to listen.  (Note: this, by the way, goes for you, too.  You need to listen to what others choose to share — even if it’s not something you’re excited about hearing).

•    Be authentic, not “nice.” I’ve seen countless women lie to friends, lovers, parents and kids under the guise of being nice.  Believe it or not, lying is not nice—even when you do it with the best of intentions.  Telling your girlfriend you’re sick and can’t go out to dinner because you want to go out with someone else is not being a nice friend.  Be honest, not fake.  If you can’t be honest, then, minimally, be neutral…but don’t lie.

•    Speak directly. If there’s something you don’t like, stop stewing about it and, instead, discuss it.  Trust me, you will feel much better, even if the conversation doesn’t go well.  When we hold things in, we pay the price.  We end up holding the unspoken stress in our bodies and then get sick, depressed or worse.  Nobody — and nothing — is worth that.  Be determined to speak directly—and respectfully—about issues from the start.  The more you deal with things directly from the beginning, the less baggage your relationships will have…which can lead to the end.

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We’re Much Nicer to Others Than We Are to Ourselves
March 8, 2011 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off on We’re Much Nicer to Others Than We Are to Ourselves
If we really listen to our internal dialogue most of us will hear things that if said to others, would make our hair stand on end.
“You’re fat and lazy.”
“You are the worst mother in the world.”
“Who do you think you are??!!”

Tara Parker Pope highlights the need to calm the harsh inner world in her most recent article in her NYT blog Well, entitled “Go Easy On Yourself, a New Wave Of Research Urges”.  She cites research by Dr. Kristin Neff at the University of Texas at Austin that shows people with higher levels of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety. Why the internal battlefield? Neff states, “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent.  They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”
So the “inner critics” are keeping us in line, so they think, but really hurting us in the long run. There are a number of ways to approach these inner critics to calm and heal them. One is Internal Family Systems therapy, another is meditation and mindfulness. What we do learn when we take the time to get to know these inner critics is that they are protecting us from, we think, worse pain: shame, sadness, and fear to name a few. When we get to the deeper pain and not only survive, but thrive, the critics soften or even become supportive.

So if you have relentless critics, don’t shy away from the hard work. It pays off for us and our children.
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