Claire Nicogossian, MAMA, YOU ARE ENOUGH

Claire Nicogossian, MAMA, YOU ARE ENOUGH

Zibby Owens: Hi. Happy Monday. Actually, I don’t like when people say happy Monday. I don’t know why I said that. Anyway, welcome back. I hope you guys had a great weekend. This is the second week of my July Book Blast. Get excited. The first day is Advice Monday. It’s assorted advice all day for this Monday. I hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned. All week we’re going to have kid’s books and beach reads, self-help and more. We’re kicking it off with Advice Monday. Stay tuned.

Dr. Claire Nicogossian is the author of Mama, You Are Enough: How to Create Calm, Joy, and Confidence Within the Chaos of Motherhood. As soon as I heard the title, I knew I had to pick up this book as soon as possible. Originally from Washington, DC, Dr. Claire Nicogossian completed her undergrad degree in psychology and early education, and her master’s degree in counseling from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. She then became a psychologist and got her doctorate in clinical psychology at the American School of Professional Psychology, also in Virginia. She completed an internship at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, and then had fraternal twin girls and moved to Rhode Island. Now she’s there, returned to clinical work, and completing her post-doctoral fellowship at RICBT in North Kingstown. She has worked in a variety of clinical settings including the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, County Mental Health Center, and the Catholic University Counseling Center. She also works in private practice. Dr. Claire is passionate about well-being and self-care for individuals with a focus on parental well-being and writes about these topics at,, The Today Show Community Parenting Team, and at her self-help column, Ask Dr. Claire. You can also listen to her podcast, “In-Session with Dr. Claire.”

Hi, Claire. I’m sorry I’m late. How are you?

Claire Nicogossian: I’m good. No apologies needed. Two minutes still feels like on time.

Zibby: I was actually taking the quiz on your website.

Claire: That’s awesome.

Zibby: I was like, how much longer could this be?

Claire: It is long. You know what? I appreciate that because I created that a couple years ago. Now I realize, who has time for all those questions?

Zibby: No, no, no. It was good. I had time. I just didn’t have time right now. I should’ve done it an hour ago before I was in the middle of doing a podcast. I was like, oh, how fun is this? I’ll never pass up a quiz.

Claire: I love it. It’s fun. I love to do that because it’s almost a baseline of what I would do when I’m working with clients. I feel like that information’s so important and powerful for people if they can start with their physical health and they can go to a primary care physician or they can go to their counselor and have a nice foundation to start from.

Zibby: That awesome. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Can you tell me more about your book? which of course I left over behind me. I have it. Tell listeners about your book and what it’s about and what inspired you to write it.

Claire: Thank you so much for having me on. So generous what you’re doing for authors, so thank you so much, and what you have done. I’m a mother of four daughters. I am also a clinical psychologist. When I became a mother with all this education, these advanced degrees, a master’s and a doctorate, those first couple months, that first year of motherhood, I said, oh, my goodness, there’s so many things I’m feeling. There’s so many things I’m going through. I’ve done as much education you can in mental health. How come we’re not talking about these things? I would go to moms’ groups. At the time, I was in this twins group. I just wanted to talk about real emotions. I love my daughters, I love being a mom, but is anybody else bored? Is anybody else frustrated? Does anybody else feel so angry from your sleep deprivation or frustrated with your partner or husband because you can’t get them on the same page? It was like this wall would go up. It was taboo to talk about. That became a lot of the inspiration for the book, is to talk about things that us moms are going through that I hear about in my profession. Moms would come in. I work with a lot of news mom, postpartum, second-time moms, or people who are going through parenting issues and just need some support.

Whenever they want to talk about motherhood or fatherhood, they always start with a little disclaimer. I love my children so much, but I need to tell you they’re driving me crazy. I’m overwhelmed. I feel ineffective parenting them. How come it seemed so easy with child number one, but now child number two, I don’t want to be around? I started hearing these narratives and experiences from moms and just giving them space to talk about it. When we do that, they can change. They can look at themselves and not go to this place of judgement. In a nutshell, that’s what the book is about. It’s about the emotions that all of us mothers experience. I call them the shadow emotions. I do so intentionally, inspired by Carl Yung who talks about going to those places within ourselves so we know where our pain is so we can have a greater understanding and awareness. That was the framework of what I wanted to do. I don’t want to call emotions negative. When they’re negative, we start judging ourselves. I shouldn’t feel that. Well, we are feeling it. Either you’re pushing it down, you’re ignoring it, you’re denying it, or it’s coming out in another way. If I can give space to those emotions, anger, sadness, disgust, embarrassment, shame, fear, and worry, and let’s call them shadow emotions, then we become curious about it.

Zibby: This is like in Inside Out, the movie. Have your kids seen that? We have the books. Each one of the books is shame, disgust, joy. Just throwing that out.

Claire: It’s true. I remember that movie coming out when this book was in process. I thought, we have to spell it out for ourselves too. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.

Zibby: What tips can you give to moms who are feeling this way who can’t maybe have a session with you? Although, I feel like I want to sign up for how you scaled your services. What are some encouraging things or tips that you can share?

Claire: The first thing that I think is important for moms is don’t be afraid to allow yourself to feel. Feel without judging. Just be curious. I live in Rhode Island. The analogy I always use in therapy is when you’re at the beach, you look at waves come in and out. You’re not really judging them. You’re just observing them. Oh, that’s a heavy surf. That’s a light wave. Wow, look, it’s a rough surf today, or super calm. If we start looking at our inner world like that, then we get out of that shame and judgment. That’s number one. Then number two, it’s so important to physically take care of yourself. It was interesting. When I was writing the book, I went to a conference. I was talking to another parenting author. I said, “How did you make a break into having your book published?” The advice I was given was, “Wait until your kids are older to publish this book.” I remember responding to myself — I was tired. I was exhausted. I feel like I work all the time, but it brings me so much joy to write. You lose the essence if you’re away from the moment of parenting to look back on it. I feel like that’s the voice that I really bring, is that I’m in it right now. I’m doing the distant learning. I call it a COVID meltdown every afternoon. I had one right before I turned this on to meet with you.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Claire: Oh, no, it’s just life. Someone’s always overwhelmed. The step is just to allow yourself to feel, to take care of your physical health, to get the sleep. As exhausted as you may be, try to know your amount of sleep you need. When you sleep and are rested, then you can access your coping skills. Your thoughts feel a little clearer. The third thing I think is so important, with everyone at home right now, and I’m sure listeners can relate and we’re starting to reopen the world a little bit, but there’s not a lot of alone time for parents. How do you get that self-care when you’re with your kids now constantly in all these different roles? What I say to parents, and moms especially, is watch the voices in your head. How are you talking to yourself? Be kind just like you’d talk to a friend. Those are some of the quick tips that I always like to remind moms to do. Also, don’t get into this mindset that you have to be productive all the time. I think that’s the piece that can be really overwhelming. The way I’ve been framing this time in the world is that if you lost a loved one, you’d allow yourself to grieve. You would scale back and have to just see it day by day. I’m doing a lot of that in sessions with clients and reminding myself that we’re all grieving in our own way in different intensities. Let go of that need to be productive. Maybe the most accomplished thing you can do is feed your family and get outside for a nice walk.

Zibby: It’s actually easier for me to do six podcasts in a day than it is to go on a walk. I know I should be going on walks. Everybody’s going on walks. Why am I not going on walks?

Claire: It’s hard. Yesterday, I was in between a bunch of sessions. Then I had to teach in the afternoon. It just felt so suffocating being in the house. I took my oldest girls, teenagers, they’re fraternal twins, I said, “Let’s just go for a quick walk.” I came back, and I felt better. Sometimes I think it’s fun to be in that mode of just recording or being productive, and then other times…

Zibby: How old are all your girls?

Claire: My oldest are fraternal twins. They’re seventeen and a half. They’re finishing their junior year. I have a soon-to-be seventh grader, she twelve, and then a soon-to-be fifth grader. She’s ten.

Zibby: We have a similar spread. Actually, it’s very similar because I have fraternal twins also who are about to be thirteen next week. Then I have an almost-seven-year-old and a five-and-a-half-year-old.

Claire: Very similar.

Zibby: I’ll be where you are in a couple years.

Claire: It’s amazing. It’s a lot to juggle all those different developmental stages, but I think it’s such a joy.

Zibby: When you were saying about the surf coming in and watching the weather, this is a big wave and now it’s a storm, I’m like, yeah, but I feel like I’m watching — and I’ll include my husband. As adorable as he is, everybody has moods. I’ll include my own moods. I have tons of moods. So that’s all six of us with different tides. We’re all crashing on the beach in different ways on different days. It’s a lot harder to manage all of our emotions. If someone’s having a bad day and they’re having a big storm and you don’t even know why and it makes no sense because the Hatchimal didn’t open or whatever it is and the other person’s upset because of something bigger like some friends such-and-such, then you have to manage all of it as the mom, or some dads too, I’m sure. How do you deal with all of it at once?

Claire: It’s so true. That’s the human part of it. We can have these ideals. Then what does that look like? as you just described. What we do in our family, and I think I’ve coached the girls pretty well, sometimes it’s not effective, but I always say you have a right to every feeling, but you don’t have a right to take it out on someone. That’s a message I say. Oh, you seem pretty angry. You’re not being kind with your words. Do you need a break? I’ll model that. Girls, I am so tired. I am feeling really sad. I’m just a little quieter tonight. It’s about labeling, identifying, and then making that conscious effort. How are we going to treat each other right now? And giving them permission to go take a break. I’m not being disrespectful. For example, one of the girls, you’re yelling and you’re not being nice to your sister. I’m wondering what we can do about that. What do you need? And giving her permission to go to her room and just take care of herself instead of, why are you feeling that way? Why are you being so mean to your sister? You’re the older one. Okay, we need to pause and take a break. It’s not kind right now. That’s this message that I repeat. Some days it’s more effective than others. Like I said, I had a meltdown right before we started, but that’s life.

Zibby: I feel like with so much time with the kids now especially, as I know all of us are home with the kids, I keep trying different things emotionally and just seeing, okay, I’m going to try this. Today I’m in the mindset where I can try this tool that I’ve read about. Also, just not being able to hide my own emotions, as I’m sure with you, here we are. I can’t say I’ll be back in twenty minutes, not that I used to do that so often, but there’s just no hiding it. If I’m crying, they’re seeing me crying. I might as well say, you know, moms get sad too.

Claire: Exactly. I think that’s a beautiful thing you do, is to normalize that feelings happen. When feelings are pushed away, repressed, ignored, judged, then you feel shame for feeling them. It’s okay for parents, and especially moms right now — moms are carrying the mental load of this pandemic. That’s what we’re seeing. Moms are so overwhelmed. That’s not because they’re ineffective. That’s not because they’re doing something wrong. It’s because what we’re living through. It’s constant. It’s okay to have those feelings. It’s just, what are you going to do about that? The book, it was interesting, the way I organized it is looking over those five big emotions that we talked about earlier and then breaking them down kind of on a continuum. A mom can pick up the book and say, today I’m feeling irritable and I’m feeling frustrated. She can go to this section in the book and read about it. What does that look like in motherhood? What are some of those thoughts she may be saying to herself?

Then I give tools and instructions on — number one, in this book you’ll see that my writing is all about compassion, all about taking care of what’s going on inside and healing, whatever that may be. The message is received going up from a partner, from society. She can see, okay, I can manage my thoughts. If I’m saying this, here’s a healthy way to say that. Here’s moving from the shadow into thriving. There’s the cognitive piece. Then there’s steps that she can do, whether it be reaching for support, journaling, talking to a counselor. I have a little meditation at the end called The Thriving Mama Reflection, just an encouraging way to be compassionate about yourself when you feel it. It’s not a book that I intended for moms to read front to cover. It’s almost like a resource. If I’m in a moment and I want to just get in the car and go but there’s nowhere to go, can I just label the emotion I’m feeling and read about it? That was my goal.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors now that you have a book out in the world?

Claire: I appreciate that question so much. If you are an aspiring writer and writing, one, write as often as you can. Two, don’t wait for someone to give you permission to write. Just write. Then take risks. Continue to have that grit. My book, it was interesting. What you’ll see is this lovely cover and lovely message inside. What readers and listeners may not know is that it was rejected I think twenty-four times over the course of four years. I have a wonderful literary agent, Regina Brooks, at Serendipity Literary Agency. She believed in me. That really helped. I had her in my corner. The messages we always received was, the world’s not ready for a book this honest. She held fast that hope for me, as did my husband and friends and children and parents. That gave me the courage because it felt worse to give up on writing than not to write. For me, I just kept on believing and regrouping. Those rejections were hard. There was one moment at the dinner table in 2018. We had come back from a trip to California visiting family. I’d gotten my last rejection. I sat at that table with my husband and the girls. I said, “I think it’s time to give up writing.” Then I sat with it. Then of course, how authors/writers write, then they get an idea. They’re like, oh, my goodness, I want to ignore that idea and not write. I looked at my husband, I said, “You got to take the kids for four hours. I literally have to write something. I can’t not write it.” That was an excerpt that I submitted to Motherly that Diana Spalding said, “Claire, I love this so much. Can I put it in our Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama?” That felt like the universe was like, okay Claire, I know you wanted to give up, but you kept going. For me, it was just getting quiet and listening as a writer in spite of the rejections, if that makes sense.

Zibby: Of course it does. That’s awesome. That’s such an inspiring story. You hear it. It takes a lot to get it published. Hearing your story, rejection hurts. There’s so many times when, for every book, think of all the authors who did give up and they’re not out there, the books that weren’t.

Claire: The books that weren’t, that’s the piece too, what I would say to any aspiring author is your voice is what makes you the writer. Don’t try to be like anybody else’s voice. Some of the feedback we received is, “Oh, my gosh. We’ll buy Claire’s book, but we think it’s too heavy. We’d rather it be funnier.” I remember having these conversations with my literary agent, Regina. She’s like, “Claire, you got to be true to who you are. You can’t be funnier. You can’t be indignant. You are you, and this is your voice.” That’s the other piece. Be open to feedback, but don’t give up who you are as a writer and your voice.

Zibby: That’s great advice. Thank you so much. I’m glad we connected. I’m going to go back now and read all of the results of my quiz from your website, Dr. Claire Nicogossian. Thank you. Thank you for all your tips. Thanks for helping so many moms out there.

Claire: Thank you, Zibby. I appreciate talking to you today. This was a lot of fun.

Zibby: Thanks. I hope the COVID meltdown pre-our call has been resolved by the time you walk out of the room.

Claire: Thank you. I’m optimistic. Have a great one.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Claire: Bye.

Zibby: I hope you enjoyed this episode of Advice Monday on the July Book Blast. I know that some of these were from the quarantine and some might seem old even though they’ve just come out. I had to get them out in one big sweep. I hope that you’ve gotten some useful life tips as you’ve listened today.

Claire Nicogossian, MAMA, YOU ARE ENOUGH