Tracye Polson

Dr. Jill and Tracye Polson talk all things attachment, motherhood, and parenting.

Dr. Jill: Welcome to Motherhood Feels Hindsight is 20/20. I’m Dr. Jill Garrett, a licensed psychologist who specializes in maternal mental health and host of Motherhood Feels: Hindsight is 20/20. Stay tuned for an engaging episode with Tracy Polson. Tracy is a seasoned mom to two adult children and an experienced clinician with over 25 years in the mental health field supporting adults, couples and families as a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. In addition to these roles, Tracy currently serves as the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Mayor Donna Deegan in Jacksonville, Florida. Listen in as we talk through her experiences and insights.

Dr. Jill: Hey guys, it’s me, Jill. Big news. M is for Mom, A motherhood Feels book is out now. M is for Mom introduces healthy mental health coping skills in a rhyming storybook format. It’s perfect for baby shower gifts, gender reveals, new baby visits, Mother’s Day, and even seasoned moms. If you would like to stock up on a go-to baby shower gift or you’d like to be the first to shower your patients or employees with M is for Mom, bulk orders can be placed by contacting Head over to to check out the newly revamped website, to get a preview of M is for Mom and to check out available locations to purchase M is for Mom. And as per usual, make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast on Apple or Spotify. Five star reviews can’t hurt either. You can also follow me on Instagram @motherhoodfeels. And check out my online course Before and even after Baby Boot Camp The downloadable workbook and short videos will walk through evidence-based strategies for healthy coping with all your motherhood feels. Thanks for listening.

Hi Tracye: thank you for being here.

Tracye: Hi Jill. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Jill: So let’s start with you telling us a little bit about yourself.

Tracye: Yeah. I am Dr. Tracye Polson. I’m a licensed clinical social worker by training. I’ve been in Jacksonville full time since 2010 and have lived a little, sort of bopped around a lot. But right now I live in Avondale and it’s a neighborhood that I absolutely love. There’s a lot about living in Jacksonville that I really like. I’m currently serving Mayor Deegan as the Director of Strategic Partnerships, which means I’m the liaison between the mayor’s office, the nonprofit community, and the philanthropic community, and I started there on the 31 July. Prior to that, I had a full time psychotherapy practice and in fact, I still have a very small practice working with adults who have experienced some form of trauma, mostly relational trauma. So both in terms of earlier childhood experiences, but also adult experiences as well. And I have two grown kids, so the conversation around mothering and the motherhood feels is going to be fun for me because they’re launched and two amazing human beings. My daughter lives in New York City and is also a practicing social worker, as is my son, and he lives in Baltimore. So super proud of them and looking forward to our conversation.

Dr. Jill: Well, that’s great. And how cool to hear about your kids now being out of the nest and then also sounding like they’re following your footsteps. So I’m excited to hear all about that. But first, I want to mention, you didn’t mention this, but I want to put it out there. You’ve also run for public office yourself. I know this because I was a supporter of you, and so you have done a lot of good for our community, and I know that you’ll be great in your new job with Mayor Deegan.

Tracye: Thank you for that. And thank you for supporting me. I’ve actually run for office twice, like thousands of women across the country. After the 2016 election, I got very involved. I’d been involved in politics tangentially in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is where I lived before moving here. But after that election, I got really involved locally and ended up running for the Florida House in 2018, which was an amazing experience and a very, very close election. And then I ran again in 2022 for a special election that was an opening caused by the death of a very beloved former mayor, Tommy Hazori, Donna Deegan’s cousin and city council member. And that was a race that I actually was planning to run in, but I did not know that it would be a special election created by Tommy’s death. So that was really sad. But, yeah, I’ve tried to be very involved in this community. I love the city and just feel like it has so much to offer in a lot of different ways. And, yeah, to your point about working in the administration, hoping to be able to work together with a lot of folks in this community to really move the city forward in different ways.

Dr. Jill: And I love your neighborhood. It has amazing places to eat and drink and socialize and hang out, and I’m sure you’re enjoying being there. I also saw when doing a little bit of a deep dive on you, that you have spent some time in Charlotesville, Virginia, doing maybe some training there at University of Virginia, where I went to undergraduate school. What do you remember about Charlottesville?

Tracye: Well, so I grew up in Virginia, and one of my best friends from high school, well, she and I both went to Mary Washington College. Right. Actually, there are three of us that went to Mary Washington College, which back in the day was sort of like the sister college of UVA, when it was all male and Mary Washington was all female. The year that I went to my first year in college was the first year that it was co ed. And so there were seven guys in my dorm on the first floor. But the training that I think you’re referring to was on attachment, and I think it was put on by the under five study center, if I remember. And so that was an amazing seminar, and I learned a lot about attachment. But I will tell you, because this sort of connects to our conversation about motherhood. The first time I read about attachment theory was in the Washington Post, and there was an interview with Mary Ainsworth, who was at UVA, and that was like learning about her and her research and then learning about Bulby and know going down that rabbit hole was really the beginning of my fascination with attachment and attachment theory. Yeah.

Dr. Jill: And for people who are listening, we have referenced this before, but TBRI is a style of therapy that is trauma informed and also attachment based. And the idea that our connections with our primary caregivers informs our connections throughout our lives and kind of our relationship to the world around us. And so I think as a person who did their dissertation on this topic, it is very fascinating and glad that we kind of have that same shared history. So you have all this very cool professional experience and also a mom. Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a mom.

Tracye: Well, first, before I had my biological children, I was a stepmother to my first husband’s son. And so very young, I was 23 when I married the first time. And then my husband then had shared custody, but had his son more time than his ex wife. And that was a really powerful experience, parenting at such a young age, but also parenting a child who was biologically not my own. And so I learned a lot through that experience. And both my parents were divorced, so I had both a stepfather who’s now deceased and a stepmother who’s still living. And so that whole stepparenting and all the Disney drama around stepmothers and the bad rap and all of that, I was sort of getting to experience in a lot of different ways before I got pregnant with my daughter. So, yeah, I would say that’s a really fascinating sort of piece of the motherhood journey right? It’s not necessarily parenting our biological children. It could be parenting stepchildren or adopted children as well. And those ways of parenting bring up different sorts of feelings and experiences.

Dr. Jill: Yeah, that’s for sure. And I think that’s an important piece to bring up the complexity of that role. And then you mentioned your age. You’re still coming into your own sometimes in that age range. And then to be parenting yourself in a stepparent role, I can see the challenges that would come along with that. How soon after did you have your biological children?

Tracye: So my daughter. I had my daughter when I was 25.

Dr. Jill: So a couple of years later.

Tracye: Yeah. So she will be 39 this month, which just blows my mind. She feels the same way. She’s like, I can’t believe I’m going to be 40 next year. And I’m like, slow your role. You haven’t even turned 39 yet.

Dr. Jill: Well, and you said that both of your children are what sounds like licensed social workers, and they were clearly exposed to a parent who is steeped in this field. What do you think it was about your parenting style and your professional experience that might have gotten them attracted to the profession?

Tracye: It’s a really good question. We should have had them on to answer that question. But what I would say, because I dropped out of college after my first year and didn’t go back and finish until I graduated with my undergraduate degree when I was 31. And so my daughter was seven years old, and I was four and a half months pregnant with my son. And then I went back to do my MSW when my son was about 18 months old, I think. So they had an experience of me as a student, and then when I did my PhD at Smith, my daughter had just graduated from high school and my son was in middle school. So they really got to see me not only just be a student, but do this work that I love, including running an organization in Rockville, Maryland, that is focused on early childhood. So pregnant women with children up to age, I think now it’s up to age ten or eleven, focused on early childhood mental health prevention intervention that came out of an NIMH research project. So focused on really not just, like, child development, but understanding the social and emotional component and the sorts of supports and understanding that parents need to be good parents. So they got to see all of that. And I would say that one of the things that I think they probably really witnessed, not only in terms of the work that I did, but also in terms of my interactions with them, was really always trying to understand, and even in my mistakes as a parent. Right. Because we all make them. Having a lot of grace later because of watching me grow and change as a mother over the years. And I think that’s even today, I think that’s something that they both see.

Dr. Jill: That’s a huge insight. And I actually had in the back of my head as you were talking. I wonder what her response would have been when she didn’t do it just right, quote unquote. And when you are steeped in the field and you have early education and you have mental health experience, sometimes it can be extra challenging when you aren’t doing it just right. And I’m hearing Grace and I’m hearing potential repairs in there. What am I missing? What would you do when you stumbled?

Tracye: Well, I mean, I think part of it was predicated on where they were developmentally, but certainly as they’ve gotten older and even earlier, trying to explain things and giving them a context for understanding. But I grew up in a family with domestic violence and mental illness and, honestly, personality disorder, and I knew that there were things that I didn’t want to, and I didn’t have the words for those things right then. I do now. And I think that was 100% why I wanted to go into this field. I really wanted to understand. And I used this frame when I ran for office. I wanted to understand why the people who are supposed to love and nurture and protect us can be the people that sometimes hurt us the most. And that is really a question that I’ve continued to ask and try to understand. And so part of it was sort of framing for them not wanting to do what I had been around or learned. Not that it was all negative. I have a very, very good relationship with both of my parents today, but they grew and they tried to understand a lot of the sort of generational forms of violence that got sort of handed down. And I didn’t want to continue that, and I wanted to label that. I wanted to name that so that we could say, yeah, I’m not going to beat my kids. I’m not going to use physical punishment as a means of control and power. And so just being able to put words to things, I think, really, and also apologizing and being accountable and letting them be angry with me over the years for different things and tell me about what their experience was and their perspective and being able to validate that, understand it and just hold that space for them and sort of continue to try to do that.

Dr. Jill: Yeah. And so it sounds like your personal and early family experiences not only informed your parenting, but also your professional practice. And you’ve been able to take a lot of lessons learned and really generalize them across the board, which is really neat to think about, how hard pieces actually became. Silver linings in your experience.

Tracye: Yeah, I was thinking about, so much of my parenting is informed by my experience as a child, as well as my education and then later experiences. But I went through a period where I didn’t speak to my father for over two years. And when we sort of reconnected, we had a very powerful conversation in which I basically felt like I had a choice to make. Like I could move forward and try to have a relationship that was sort of grounded in the here and now or just write it off. And so that’s what I did. I said, I really want to have a relationship with you, but it can’t be based on fear. And we have to get to know one another because we didn’t really know each other, partly because they divorced when I was younger, but also, I think the thinking about not really wanting to know your children, which is very different than telling them what to do and telling them how to be right, like, that’s not really knowing them, being curious. And so that was something that was really important to me as well. But even going back in terms of the attachment piece, I was 18 months old the first time I saw my dad, because he was in the army and stationed in Germany. And then my mom said to me when he came home, Tracy, go give your dad a kiss. And I toddled over and picked up the picture of him, and I kissed the picture even though he was right in the room. This whole concept of, like, how do you get to know your children? How do you get to know your parents? And how does that shift over time as we hopefully both get older?

Dr. Jill: And it sounds like for you, there became a point in your relationship with your parents where you had to make a decision about a healthy boundary. And also hearing that, it sounds like they were willing to do some of the work, which is quite fortunate because that’s not always the case. And that ended up in what sounds like a good relationship at this point in time. So, for me, brings up feelings of optimism, even when there are hard experiences and hard dynamics within personalities or relationships. Then you mentioned the other piece about getting to know people, getting to know your parent or your child. Curious for you. What is it that you did or have done to get to know your own children?

Tracye: They’re amazing. And I know every parent says that, or many parents say that. But they’re so smart and they’re so thoughtful and they’ve had experiences that I haven’t had. And obviously they’re a different generation. And so I’ve always just tried to be really interested in listening to them, talking about what they want to talk about, asking them questions about how they see the know. My daughter, for example, and my son too. But my daughter has done a lot of anti racism work. And as a young white woman living in New York City and working at a middle school, a performing arts middle school in the Bronx, and even in her peer group from graduate school, did a lot of this work and just really listened. So I learned from them. I learned from them in terms of that piece. But just, again, their music, like their friends and I love spending time with them. Yeah, they’re just super smart and thoughtful people.

Dr. Jill: Well, it’s also fun. Even though my kids are not adults yet, I just find it fun to just kind of see what they’re doing. What are you into? And just watching some of the wildness of it all. And though it is maddening at times, it’s also entertaining at times and interesting, too.

Tracye: I’ll give you another example, though, just thinking about my son. He took a class in college on the US drug policy and learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t know and is a real strong proponent of decriminalizing and legalizing different substances and became really well versed in understanding medication assisted treatment for drug addiction and worked for an organization in Washington, DC that know focused on that, the American Society of Addiction Medicine. And so that’s just like one example where I learned all kinds of stuff about policy and the biology of how various substances work in our brain and treatments that are much more successful.

Dr. Jill: I like that you are able to see how they have had these successes with what sounds like empathic, thoughtful humans that they have become, which I think a lot of times when people are parenting little kids and a lot of people who listen to this podcast are in that phase, it just feels like it’s miles and miles away. And some of those qualities like the empathy and the thoughtfulness are not all that well developed. And so again, another moment for opportunities for optimism down the line. And I’m also thinking about how a lot of times parents are probably wondering how to be present and get to know a five year old, a two year old, an eight year old. And I’m curious what your thoughts are on that. I think I might have answered it with the curious word. Maybe just remaining open and curious would be what you’re thinking, since it sounds similar to how you’ve managed it as a mom of adult children.

Tracye: Yeah, I would say that sort of meeting them where they are developmentally, being interested and curious and just sort of observing them and interacting with them in a way that’s at their level, I think where it gets trickier. At least my recollection is around discipline and wanting your children to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it, right. Yeah, I just remember really struggling with that sometimes because developmentally they’re going to want to push back. They’re going to want to dig their heels in. Right. And understanding the both end of that. So understanding. And I say, I talk about this a lot in my practice with women in particular about how important your no is in claiming your no and how developmentally a lot of parents struggle with letting their toddler own their no and learning how to pick battles and learning how to sort of support them in saying no and figuring out, well, what are the no’s you can live with that. Really give them a sense of their own agency and control over their own life in some ways that you can flex on versus the things that are really safety related, or you can tolerate their disgruntlement if you sort of really enforce a rule. I think that’s a tricky space.

Dr. Jill: It is. But I think the way you are sharing it shows that you can find a few hot button priorities on no safety was one you brought up, and then there are some aspects of things that you can say, all right, I’m going to let that one go. That doesn’t have to become a battle. So now, as a seasoned mom, you have these successful children who I now need to look into because it sounds like they’re doing such cool work. But with some hindsight, I’m curious what you wish you had known and having some perspective now, years later.

Tracye: When I think back, I knew when I was 23 and being a stepmother, I knew it was hard. And I don’t know that I could have known how to do it any better or differently because I was so young. And so I think about the intersection of my own unresolved trauma, my own struggle around my own insecurities, and how all of those sort of came to play. And I don’t know that any of that could have been significantly different because of my age, because I hadn’t had the years of psychotherapy that I later embarked on. And some of that is just maturation and experience and having trusted people that can help you sort of think about how to do things differently. I mean, that sort of cliche. I did the best I could. It was true. I don’t know that I feel like so much of that was just about my youth and my inexperience.

Dr. Jill: Well, I think you bring up a really good point. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like there’s one thing that we can say. Definitely learned this, but instead this idea that most people come to the table doing the best they can with what they have in that moment. And like you’re describing, maturation, experience, insight often makes a shift, and that’s the pathway that sounds like was the one that worked for you, for sure.

Tracye: And like I said, the psychotherapy that I had, the reading that I did, really understanding some of the dynamics that I was experiencing that I couldn’t have necessarily articulated at the time, I could feel them. All of that has been helpful in the years since then.

Dr. Jill: And you were also a young mom with young kids doing school, and finding that balance was probably tricky as well. What do you remember about finding that work life balance?

Tracye: Well, I remember thinking, first of all, I loved it. I loved being able to use that part of my brain, my mind, to learn what I was learning. And I had a lot of support, both from my first husband at the time, he was very supportive of me going back to school. So that was really important. And I had phenomenal parents that could be grandparents so that they could help when I was in class or different things, sort of provide the support for my kids. They always felt their sort of interest and love, and that was important. And then I also had supportive of, at the time I was working part time and then later full time. So I also had the support of my employer. So finding those communities where they really value people, learning and education now more than ever feels really important. Sure.

Dr. Jill: And then being able to strike that balance, which I think is really hard, but a reminder that it’s something that can be a work in progress. And it sounds like you found and struck a really great balance. And here you are today with what sounds like great success with parenting and your career. Is there anything I didn’t ask you about or anything that you would like to share that would be helpful to other moms, dads, families?

Tracye: I think I would just say relationships are complicated and people are complicated. And I had a phenomenal professor in my doctoral program who said, keep it complicated. And she meant that when we try to really distill something and make it super simple, we lose a lot in that. And so I would say, to hold on to the both and right, to hold on to the complexity, not that should paralyze us, but it’s a way of really trying to look at things from a lot of different directions and perspectives and hold that while at the same time trying to figure out how to make a decision about something. And so I think if parents are really talking to their pediatricians and reading good sort of literature, that’s out there, because there’s a lot of really good stuff, certainly way more than even when I was a young mom and thinking about the health and safety and well being, but the emotional health and psychological health and understanding what that really means, which isn’t about intimidation, coercion, punishment, it really is in a very different space. And just trying to learn about that and be curious. Yeah.

Dr. Jill: And then for those who know that that’s the way of the future, also giving yourself some grace when you have some missteps. Because I think it’s just natural that they’re going to be moments when you want to be respectful and gentle with your child, but they’re going to have moments where you just aren’t doing it perfectly. And so that’s another kind of reminder I see not only for myself, but for people with whom I work. Give yourself some grace and practice that balance too.

Tracye: Yes, because we’re all human and we all lose our tempers. And in moments, heated moments can say something that we regret later. Yeah.

Dr. Jill: Well, I thank you so much for taking time to speak with me. This has been so neat to hear all about you and hear your perspective. So thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here.

Tracye: You’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me. I loved it. It was a fun conversation and happy to help.

Dr. Jill: Thanks for listening And make sure to save the date for the upcoming Motherhood Feels book launch. You can mix and mingle with motherhood feels at Fishweir Brewing Company in Jacksonville, Florida. For the book launch of Motherhood Feels M is for Mom and Fatherhood Feels: D is for Dad. December 7, 05:30 p.m. at Fishweir Brewing Company.