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My Summer To Do List For My Kids (And Myself)

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There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it ~ Phineas and Ferb theme song

Ah, summer.

When you unschool, or even homeschool, summer means a slightly different thing than it does when your kids go to school.  If you’ve done it right, summer break doesn’t really a mean a “break”, because there’s nothing to take a break from.  And when you live in Phoenix, summer means a slightly different thing than it does in other places as well.  When everyone else is gearing up for lots of outdoor activities, we’re making plans that involve A/C… unless said outdoor activities include being covered in water of some sort.

Still, there’s something romantic and lovely about the idea of the lazy, hazy, carefree days of summer.  A time to be free, a time to play, a time to practice feeling good in your own skin.

For a lot of parents, there seems to be a temptation to see summer as a time to micromanage.  A time to prize structure over spontaneity;  control over freedom. There’s a post that seems to go around Facebook every year as summer approaches that highlights this fact, encouraging parents to print out cute little checklists to keep their kids on task all summer long.  There are many variations, but the general gist is usually something like this:

NO ELECTRONICS UNTIL YOU:

 

Brush your teeth, get dressed, and clean your room

Read for 30 minutes

Play outside for 30 minutes

Draw, build, craft for 30 minutes

Practice your karate/musical instrument/dance steps for 30 minutes

Finish your chores

Help your mother with her chores

etc

Obligatory disclaimer:  I have seen things like this posted by a LOT of moms, including several whom I really like and respect.  What follows is not about any individual people, but about concepts and ideas.  Having said that:

Lists like this really, really bother me, for a multitude of reasons.  First, I don’t think they accomplish what these well-meaning parents want them to accomplish. They’ve decided that video games/electronics/screen time are a less valuable pursuit than everything else. But by setting it up as a hierarchy in which kids have to perform certain tasks in order to earn it, they’re actually flipping the script and making the electronics MORE valuable, and grossly DE-valuing things like reading, being creative, and playing outside.  Those are all fun and wonderful things in their own right, and their system reduces them to nothing more than pesky little chores that they have to check off a list before they get to the real fun. Second, lists like these emphasize compliance over relationship.  And sure, they might “work” in the short term.  If your child is one who is motivated by electronics, he might very well do whatever it takes to earn them. But what’s the cost?  Mom has set herself up as more of a dictator or a boss than a partner, and all those things she wanted her child to do and like? The appreciation she wanted to foster for reading, for playing outside, for building things with their hands? Those things have become nothing more than tasks to endure in order to get to the elusive screentime.

Now I don’t make a summer-time – or any-time – list for my kids, because I don’t like lists (I’m totally lying.  I ADORE lists.  But my love affair with lists is just that – mine – and not something that I have the right nor the desire to impose on my kids)  But if I did make a summer list for my kids, it would be the same as mine, and it would look something like this:

Rest – No, we don’t pay any attention to the school year in our lives, but for some reason the first few months after the new year are always super busy ones in our household.  Tegan (age 8 at the time of this writing) just finished a play that’s been in rehearsals since January.  Everett (age 12) just had his final football game of the spring season.  And the last six weeks or so before the conference – starting around mid-August – are going to be insane with preparations.  So I’m all in favor of any and all of my family members using this time to take a much-needed breather.  To kick up their feet, to rest in both body and spirit, and to just BE for awhile before the next busy season is upon us.

Do what makes your heart happy – YouTube, Minecraft, video games? Jumping on the trampoline, reading, writing, playing with legos?  Visiting with friends? Playing catch in the backyard?  Researching, working, resting, figuring things out?….. It’s all there for the taking.

Travel – Our travel plans are different every summer, depending on any number of factors (finances, logistics, husband’s work schedule, etc)  but we all love a good travel adventure!   This year, Paxton (15) is flying out to Michigan for a month to visit, write with, and practice with his band, The Cringes.  A few weeks later, the rest of us are headed that way for a two week road-trip, visiting friends along the way, and ultimately bringing him home with us.

Try new things – I LIVE for trying new things.  Mine are usually of the creative sort, but I try not to shy away from learning anything that strikes my fancy. Spencer (19) has been applying for jobs lately, and has recently been talking about learning Spanish.  Everett has expressed an interested in trying soccer (I think the only sport he has yet to try).  Tegan wants to get back into gymnastics, and try some sort of martial art.  Summer is a great time to start thinking about that kind of thing.  I mean, why not??

Keep doing “old” things – As wonderful as new things are, there is something to be said for familiarity as well.  I hope we keep working on, and playing with, and learning from the things we already know and love.

Step out of your comfort zone – I just realized I’m talking in a little bit of a circle now.  “Do something new”.  “No, do something comfortable”.  “No, do something uncomfortable”.  But a life well lived is a mixture of all the above, isn’t it?  A few weeks ago, I took a giant step outside my own personal comfort zone (someday I will share a little here on my blog) and it was at once horrifying and difficult and one of the most important things I’ve ever done.  I’m a big believer in the fact that if we want to grow, if we want to learn in deep and meaningful ways, if we want to be the best selves we can be…. sooner or later we’re going to have take risks, do the scary thing, and trust in the outcome that we can’t yet see.

Live and love deeply –  When you boil it all down, is there anything else more important?

This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but it’s a start.   This is the only kind of list I need to get me through this summer.  And if my kids’  lists looks totally different than mine?  That’s okay too. It’s their list to make.

Will we still do chores around the house?  Yup.  Will we still pursue our hobbies and/or creative pursuits?  Yup.  Will we still read books and play outside and build things with our hands?  Yup, yup, yup.   But because we’re doing those things of our own volition, when it feels right, when it makes sense to US, (rather than just as a means to an end) they will mean something.  They will be appreciated on their own merits.  They will be something we learn from, rather than something we endure.

Oh, and as for those coveted electronics?  We’ll use and enjoy those too…. without jumping through any hoops to get to them.


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My God Won’t Leave You Stranded On The Side Of The Road

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Christianity has a bit of a PR problem.

As I type that, I want to laugh (except of course that I’m so sad I want to cry), because it’s just about the biggest understatement I could possibly make.

Christianity has a really really huge, colossal PR problem.   The word – and concept – of Christianity has become such a marred and dirty word that I don’t know that it’s likely to ever recover.  In fact, many God-loving people are abandoning the word altogether, because they’re sick and tired of having to follow the statement of “I’m a Christian,” with a hastily uttered addendum of “But not one of those Christians.”  I actually started calling myself a follower of Christ a few years ago, because I felt like it more accurately described my position.

And really, who wants to be associated with… well, those Christians?

People hear the word Christian these days and they think of people like Phil Robertson.  They think of people freaking out about coffee cups.  They think of people freaking out about bathrooms in Target.  They think of people freaking out about the phrase, “Happy Holidays.”  (Are you sensing a pattern here?)  They think of people petitioning and boycotting and generally spending their collective time and energy on being negative.  They think about people withdrawing their funds for starving babies – literally taking food away from hungry children – because of an administrative policy that wouldn’t discriminate against gay people.  They think about bakers refusing to make wedding cakes.  They think about hatred.  They think about prejudice and bigotry and judgement.

And as of this week…. they think about tow truck drivers proudly taking a stand and refusing to tow the car of a disabled young lady who’d just been in accident… all because she had a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on her car.

People hate Christians.

And not because, as some would have you believe, they’re doing God’s work à la Matthew 10:22 (“You will be hated by everyone because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”)  No.  They’re hated because too many of them have been behaving  like horrible, horrible people – and it could stand to be said: not at all Christ-like – and then proudly claiming God as their justification.

And I get it.  I struggle with my love for my fellow Christians too.  I want to cry.  I want to scream.  I want to desperately yell, “We’re not all like this!!”  Yes, 98% of my writings on Christianity have been born of straight-up frustration.  No question.

But I realized something.

In the time it took me to decide to write about this, to find the perfect picture, and to brew the perfect cup of coffee, it dawned on me:

This is not about Christianity at all.  It’s really not.  It’s about select individuals making bad decisions, and using “God” as their cover. I’d like to believe (really, I need to believe) that people are smart enough to see the difference.  That anyone with a working, thinking, rational brain can recognize that a Christian, as in a follower of Christ, is NOT synonymous with a “Christian”, as in “I’m going to leave an innocent girl stranded on the side of the road BECAUSE GOD TOLD ME TO.”

Am I horrified by this behavior?  Yes.  Do I find it absolutely disgusting that anyone would bring God into something so ugly?  Yes.  But my ranting and raving and general defensive word-spewing only serves to bring me down to their level. I’m not the spokeswoman for Christianity at large.  Beyond that though, I can’t control what anyone else does.  I can’t control what anyone else thinks.  If someone wants to behave like a complete and utter jackass and  delude themselves into thinking it’s what God wants them to do, it’s their choice to make. If someone wants to lump all Christians together and label them all as horrible, bigoted, self-seeking sycophants, so be it.

None of that changes my faith.  None of that changes my God.

Have you met my God?

(Ack, I just heard the way that sounds.  Please don’t stop reading.  I do NOT mean that in a door-to-door, “Brother, have you accepted the LORD JESUS as your personal savior??” kind of way.  What I mean is… do you know who it is that I – and others like me – personally follow?  Because let me perfectly clear: It is not a deity who would ever… ever ever ever… ask me to turn my back on someone who needed my help.  In fact, my God is very much the opposite)

My God has more love, and grace, and patience than humans can even comprehend.  Love and grace and patience for ALL people …. Black people and white people. Gay people and straight people.  Christians and atheists and Jewish people.  Sanders supporters and Trump supporters.   Able-bodied and disabled.  People who spend Sunday morning at church.  People who spend Sunday morning at Target.

My God wants me to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, and to stand up for the oppressed.  It’s kind of the whole reason I’m on earth.  I really believe that.  All this other stuff… it’s just noise and distractions.  And make no mistake;  I miss the mark, a LOT.  (More on that later)  But what I strive for? This is it.

My God wants me to use my powers for good, not evil.  I realize I’m a person and not a superhero, but it’s far more interesting to think of our skills, talents, and gifts as super powers, don’t you think?  I like to think that my super power is writing, but, you know, I’m not God, so….  A few years ago, I thought I heard God to tell me to get trained to teach yoga, so I did.  And I’ve spent many moments since then wondering if that was the right decision.  I had two shoulder surgeries in two years.  I have had chronic physical illness, chronic pain, and the worst anxiety and depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m clearly supposed to be learning something from the experience, and I’m still not sure what it is.   Maybe one day I’ll go back to teaching.  Maybe I’ll shift my focus elsewhere.  But I digress.  We’ve all got powers, and we all get to decide how we use them.  My God wants me to use them for good, whatever they ultimately end up being.

My God wouldn’t ask me not to bake a wedding cake.  If wedding cakes were the way I brought to the world my skills and my heart and my love of Christ, He would ask me to bake two.  He would ask me to make the best damn gay wedding cakes that ever existed, and to do it with love.  He would ask me to throw in some free cookies too.  Not the day-old ones that were sitting out in the case and starting to get dry around the edges, but fresh cookies.  Beautiful cookies, made with the finest ingredients I could get my hands on.

My God wouldn’t ask me to spend my time and my energy and my blood, sweat, and tears on picketing, petitioning, and boycotting. My God tells me that my time is so much better spent doing the work I need to do on myself so I can live out my faith to the best of my ability.  So I can show people what Jesus actually looked like; so I can show people how Jesus actually behaved.

My God wouldn’t ask me to leave anyone stranded on the side of the road.  The entirety of what I feel, and believe, and know to be true about my God and my faith tells me that the moment someone is in need is in fact the very moment that we’re here for. As a follower of Christ, as a person with a heart and a soul, as a human sharing this earth with other people, I am here to help my fellow man.  This is it.  This is what it’s about.  Forget the fact that it was his job as a tow truck driver to tow his car.  Forget that.  He was there to do a job, and he chose not to do it.  And I don’t know… maybe he hates his job.  Maybe he’d had a bad day.  Maybe he had a traumatic Bernie Sanders bumper sticker incident in a past life.  Setting all that aside….  no matter who or what he may believe in, or why he was there, or why the woman needed help in the first place:  as a human being, with values and morals and a sense of right and wrong, there was only one thing to do.  And he didn’t do it.  And then, he blamed God.

Which brings me full-circle to the beginning of the post, and the agony of people behaving badly, and the sadness and frustration of people lambasting Christians as a whole for believing in a God (except they usually words like “imaginary sky ghost”) that would ask them to do something so awful.

Let me say again that my God wouldn’t want me to leave anyone stranded on the side of the road.  Whoever or whatever those people are talking about is not my God.

And I’ll be perfectly clear (and honest).  God knows, I don’t always do the right thing.  I want to;  I do.  But I’m a fallible human. Sometimes I let fear, or pride, or ego, or laziness, or just plain selfishness keep me from doing what I know in my heart is the right thing to do.  I’m a work in progress, like everyone else.  But when I drop the ball, when I do something unkind… IT’S ALL ON ME.  And when you drop the ball and do something unkind, it’s all on you too.  Not God.

My God wants me to love my neighbor.  He doesn’t want me to be an asshole.  Full stop.

I’m tired of having this discussion over and over.  I’m tired of people behaving badly.  I’m tired of the emotional gymnastics I always go through when people rail about how horrible Christians are… when half of me wants to agree with them, and the other half is cut to my core at the hatred, wanting to curl up and cry, “But…  but… we’re not all like that!!!”

Mostly I’m tired of all this ridiculous noise, distracting us from doing what we need to be doing, and what we need to be focused on: Doing the right thing, loving our neighbor, and standing together to say we won’t tolerate bad behavior.  I don’t care who you are or what you believe in.  If you stand for love and kindness, I’ll stand beside you.

I’ll stand beside you, with my God, and work on me.  Work on my patience, work on my compassion, work on my love…. both for the person on the side of the road, and for the person who left her there.  Both for my fellow Christians, and for the people that aim to hurt us. It’s hard sometimes.  But I’m working on it.  I want to work on it.  God wants me to work on it.  Because my God?  He only wants goodness, not bad.  Lightness, not dark.  Love, not hatred.  Anything else is not God.  It’s user error.  It’s humanness.  It’s the dark side of humanity.

But I’ll work on me.  And you (if you choose) can work on you.  In the meantime…..

If you’re going to be a bigot;  If you’re going to do something disgusting and inhumane:  At least own up to the fact that you’re doing so out of your own moral shortcomings, and leave God out of it.


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Twelve Awesome Things About Everett

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Today my sweet, sensitive, warm-hearted Everett turns 12.  The growth I’ve seen in him in the past year (not just in stature, but holy cow he is getting tall!) blows me away.  He’s not a little boy anymore.  I officially have no more little boys.  It was as if he went from boy to young man overnight.  At twelve, Everett is kind and smart and fun-loving and just a general joy to be around.  In honor of his twelfth birthday, here are twelve of my most favorite things about him.

1.  He is loving.  Everett just has a big, giant heart.  He always has, but it is more evident now than ever.  If you want to see it in action, you need look no further than the sweet and adorable way he loves on the cat (the cat that was originally wanted by just Tegan and myself, and has since claimed Everett as her person.) He is a nurturing, sweet, and patient “dad” to his fur-kid, and I know he’ll be just as doting with his human babies someday, too.

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2.  He is gentle.  Here’s the thing.  You know how people worry that violent video games will teach/encourage/incite violence from the people who play them?  It’s something I never worry about.  And the reason I don’t worry about it is that I have living evidence that refutes that claim, right in my own house. Everett, just like his older brothers and little sister, is one of the most tender hearted, gentle souls that I’ve ever known.

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3.  He is brave.  I spent a regrettably large portion of my life being afraid, of nearly everything.  Afraid to go new places, afraid to try new things.  Not Everett. He lives for new experiences, and has always jumped at the opportunity to try new sports, new friends, new activities, new adventures.  He’s awesome.

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4.  He’s an eternal optimist.  I never see Everett doubting a situation, or doubting a friend, or doubting himself.  He knows, and truly believes, that everything is going to work out for the best.  From tiny Everett, back in his basketball-playing days, when he went almost an entire season without making a basket:  “As long as I keep throwing it up there, eventually it’s going to go in the net.”  And eventually it did.  (Full disclosure – typing that just brought tears to my eyes.  That happens to me a lot on birthdays)

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5.  He’s not afraid to challenge himself.  I know this is really similar to #3, so I’m cheating a little bit, but when Everett decides he wants to do something new,  he’s not at all deterred by the possibility of it being difficult to learn. Whether it’s playing the bass guitar, taking on another sport, or teaching himself to solve a Rubiks cube, he will sit and work and practice and practice and practice until he gets it right.

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6.  He’s sensitive.  Big heart = big feelings.  He loves hard, feels deeply, and has his mother’s soft spot for animals and underdogs.

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7.  He’s not afraid to be himself.  The youngest of the three boys, but no longer the baby of the family once Tegan arrived, Everett never let himself be lost in shuffle.  He knows who he is, and he knows who he’s not, and he knows who he wants to be.  He’s adventurous in the way he expresses himself, he has definite opinions about how he chooses to dress, and his hair has been every color of the rainbow.

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8.   He’s wise beyond his years.  Sometimes I forget he’s as young as he is, because he fits right in with the big boys.  In fact, some of his best friends are teenagers, and you would never know there was an age difference.  He is confident, and well-spoken, and carries himself with the grace and maturity of an old soul.  BUT:

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9.  He’s goofy.   One thing I love about teens and tweens is their ability to seamlessly move between child-like wonderment, and thoughtful maturity.  At the end of the day, he’s still a kid, and he still loves to play.  We took him out for birthday burgers tonight, and one minute we were discussing big topics like football stats and politics…. and the next he was balancing his fork on the two straws in his soda.

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10.  He’s smart.  One of the truly cool things about unschooling is that you get to watch and appreciate the unique intelligence and learning styles of each of your kids.  Everett is a sampler.  He likes to try lots of different things, one at a time, devoting all his energy and attention to his current passion, until he’s had his fill.  He is a true autodidact, and I am so proud of him.
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11.  He’s affectionate.  When I wrote my About Us page several years ago, I wrote this about Everett:  “He gives the most phenomenal hugs.”  I updated that page recently, but that one sentence still had to stand.   He’s not a little boy anymore, but when it comes to hugs, he’s still the same squish that he was at five. He doesn’t shrink away if I try to put an arm around him, or rub his back, and I love that about him.

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12.  He is a good friend.  To me, to his dad, to his siblings, to his peers.  He makes people laugh.  He cares about others.  He’s the kind of guy you want standing beside you… in the good times, and the bad.  He’s strong and loyal and trustworthy and true.

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And I’m so very glad that I get to be his mom.

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Happy, happy birthday Everett.  Thank you for the twelve years of love, light and laughter.


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I’m Not The Meanest Mom

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I realized something recently.  As adults, we like to hear stories of other adults performing some sort of kindness.  We like the feel-good stories of people helping their fellow man, standing up to injustice, or showing love to a total stranger.  It restores our faith in humanity.  It makes us feel good, and it motivates us to be kinder ourselves.  Kinder.  Gentler.  More compassionate. You know what we don’t see all that often?  People sharing about the times they weren’t all that kind, or respectful, or compassionate. And sure, we’re human. We’ve all done it:  We have a bad day, and we inadvertently and regrettably take it out on some poor nearby soul.  But we don’t rush to share those days, because we recognize – both on an intellectual level and on a heart level – that it’s not exactly something to brag about.

But when it’s a parent being unkind towards a child?  We* (as a society) not only tolerate this bad behavior, but we embrace it.  We actually cheer it on.

When it comes to kids, we glorify violence.  We celebrate cruelty.

So while we seem to have it right when it comes to adult on adult behavior, our collective treatment of our children is abhorrent, and getting more concerning by the day. Baby, we’ve got a long way to go.

I feel like it started with the laptop shooting dad, but it has multiplied at an alarming rate since then.  This trend of publicly parenting through bullying, shame, and intimidation is everywhere.  I feel like I can’t go a single day anymore without seeing another one.    Parenting has become a contest, but a sick one.  A contest not to find the sweetest mom, or the most competent mom, but the meanest mom. Everything is backwards.  Meanness is exalted, spitefulness is praised.   Parents boast about how mean they are to their kids, and instead of gently suggesting alternatives (or possibly better yet, denying them any attention at all), we put them on a pedestal.  We feed this very cycle of unkindness.  A quick perusal of the comment threads on any one of these public shamings tells us everything we need to know.  Hundreds, and yes, thousands of positive comments, singing the praises of meanness, shouting their rallying accolades, and devouring anyone who dare stand up for the children.

How can we do this to these little ones, the most vulnerable members of our society?  The people who need the most empathy and the most tender care, are being maligned, minimized and mistreated.

And we’re watching it happen.

I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.  I know we need to keep talking about it.  I know we can’t quietly sit back and accept it.

But it starts at home.  It starts with our own kids.

And listen, I’m the first one to admit I’m not a perfect mom.  None of us are.  I struggle sometimes with patience.  I sometimes let sleep deprivation get the better of me and am unnecessarily short with my kids.  I have to constantly remind myself to live in the moment.  I have to constantly remind myself not to sweat the small stuff.

Yes, I apologize to my children often.

But the big difference between me and the “meanest mom” supporters is that I’m saddened by mean behavior (by or towards anyone), not buoyed by it.  So no, I won’t pat you on the back for celebrating meanness.  No, I won’t be offering any “Atta girl!”s or “Way to go!”s or “Good job, mom!”s.  No, I won’t praise you for being unkind.

And I get it.  My opinion is the unpopular one.  The cool kids are all worshiping at the alter of childism.  Well, I opt out.  I don’t want to be a part of your club.  I don’t stand in solidarity with anyone who rallies around the idea of mistreating children.  I don’t care how loud your voices are.  I don’t care how many members you have.  I don’t care how good your cookies are.

I Opt Out.

In my life, in my world, I will celebrate kindness.  I will cheer for compassion.  I will stand up for grace, and forgiveness, and gentle communication.

Children learn from our actions.   Throwing away a child’s ice cream (because in his childlike excitement he forgot to say “thank you”) doesn’t teach him to say thank you, it doesn’t teach him what it means to be polite, and it doesn’t teach him gratitude.  It teaches him that if someone doesn’t behave in the way we want, that it’s okay to bully them, and that it’s okay to take someone else’s things.

Children learn from our actions.  Spanking a child for misbehaving doesn’t teach him right from wrong.  It teaches him that “might makes right”, that pain and fear are effective motivators, and that it’s okay to use physical force on someone who’s younger and more vulnerable than you.

Children learn from our actions.  Sending a child to time out when he’s having a hard time doesn’t teach him to think about his actions. It teaches him that mom is going to isolate him from her attention, her love, and her touch, at the very moment when he is needing them the most.

Children learn from our actions.  Publicly shaming a child a for making a mistake doesn’t teach him not to do it again.  It teaches him, again, to use bullying to solve his problems.  It teaches him that he can’t trust the one person he should be able to trust the most.  It teaches him to feel worthless, and ashamed, and humiliated… making him even MORE likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

Children learn from our actions.  Punishing a child (as opposed to kindly communicating, listening, and guiding) does not teach him respect.  Or responsibility.  Or accountability.  It teaches him to be bitter.  To be angry.  To be spiteful.  It teaches him to be extrinsically motivated by the fear of mom’s negative repercussions, rather than intrinsically and positively motivated by his own internal sense of right and wrong.

If you want to raise kids that are polite, respectful, and kind, start by being polite, respectful, and kind to your kids.

It starts with you.  It starts with us.

Let’s stop glorifying bullies, and start treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.

Kids are people too.

#NotTheMeanestMom


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Today, I Climbed A Mountain

*Full disclosure* I actually climbed the mountain yesterday, but today flowed better. Also, it wasn’t really a “mountain” mountain. It was more like a hill.  Okay, technically it was rocks. I climbed a pile of rocks.

Now that we have that out of the way…

I climbed a mountain yesterday, and it was a long time coming.  May 3rd is just a few weeks away, and it marks the one year anniversary of when I finally went to the ER when the symptoms I’d been experiencing for months reached the point of unbearable, and thus began a year of the worst health (both mental and physical) I think I’ve ever experienced.  It was chest pains, lower back pain, and nausea that finally made me act, but it was crazy relentless unexplained bruising, swollen lymph nodes in my clavicle – and eventually in a whole bunch of other places, – chronic flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, dizziness, and a racing heart that would confound my doctor and send me all over the city to no less than a dozen specialists.

In hindsight, it was most likely a panic attack that I had had that night we went to the ER (the first of MANY such panic attacks over the past year).  We’d gone out that evening to watch an arena football game, and I already wasn’t feeling well when we left the house.   The fear of any sort of medical event happening in public prompts my anxiety to kick in, and anxiety prompts my body to freak out, and a freaked out body does bad, bad things.  The worst part of the evening, besides the fact that it took the EMTS five tries to get the IV placed, was that my then 7 year old asked Mike if I was going to die.   I feel guilty about that, while simultaneously telling myself that it wasn’t my fault.  Could I have willed myself better if I’d tried hard enough?  I don’t know.

Chronic illness and pain (most of which is still unexplained, though some can finally be attributed to disc issues) is exhausting.  And when I say, “exhausting”, I don’t mean very tiring.  I mean it sucks the actual life out of you, to the point that you’re a shell.  A human shell that can intellectually understand that things could be worse and that there is much to be thankful for…. but who is too lost in the muck and the mire to acknowledge it.

What I’ve realized over the past few months though – again, through the magic of hindsight – is that it isn’t the physical symptoms that have been my undoing.   The much greater burden, beyond a shadow of doubt, is the depression and anxiety.  I’m not a stranger to either one, but the past year has seen them both reach heights that I didn’t know were possible.  Depression made me not care, about anything.  Anxiety made me care too much, about everything.  Too much, and not enough, all at the same time.  One made me unable to get out of bed, the other made me too afraid of being alone with my own thoughts not to.  In the past 12 months, I’ve gained and lost and gained again the same 30ish pounds, partly because eating/not eating helped with some of my physical symptoms, but mostly because I’m still that damaged 16 year old who believed that food – either restrictive, careful monitoring like a wrestler trying to make a weight class, OR eating ALL the things, all the time – was the answer.  To everything.

I was hurt by friends who seemed to vanish when I needed them most, and pissed off at friends (and strangers) who offered solutions. Partly because unsolicited advice and people telling me what do make me crazy, but also because – and I’m not proud of it – I was pissed off at everyone.  And everything.

Yes, I’ve been tested for Lyme disease.   Yes, I take vitamins.  Yes, they ruled out lupus.  NO, it’s not all in my head.  Yes, I do meditate. Yes, I understand the importance of sleep and nutrition.  Yes, I’ve tried an elimination diet.  Yes, I use essential oils.  Yes, I’ve looked into non-pharmaceutical solutions.  NO, I am not interested in your naturopathic doctor, or your liver flush, or the special drink that changed the life of your sister’s best friend’s coworker’s cousin’s ex-girlfriend. Leave me alone, leave me alone, LEAVE ME ALONE!    Wait, I can’t do this alone.  I take it back.  I need someone.  Please listen. Don’t leave me alone.  Come back!!!

There was no winning with me.  If they didn’t keep their distance because they didn’t know how to deal with me, I just pushed ’em away myself.  Really, it’s a wonder if I have any friends left at all.

I think one of the most painful paradoxes of depression (really, of mental illness in general)  is that it is excruciatingly difficult to interact with, to talk to, to be physically touched by others, at least in an authentic way …. and yet in equal measure lonely and terrifying to live in its self-created world of isolation.

I don’t believe that my depression and anxiety caused my physical symptoms, and I don’t believe that my physical symptoms caused my depression and anxiety. But mental health and physical health are of course irrevocably yolked together, and as such I know that any attempts to address either one need to be multi-pronged.

Which brings me (finally) back to my mountain.

I have a friend who posts lots of pictures of her hikes… these amazing day-long adventures up in to the mountains (mountains-mountains) all over Phoenix and its surrounding cities.  I keep telling her – in my double-life, put-a-smile-on-my-face-and-pretend-I’m-not-falling-apart-inside alternate reality – that we should go hiking together sometime.  But in reality, I am not able to do that right now. Side note:  In yoga teacher training, which now feels like a lifetime ago, we had to give our teacher 25 cents every time she caught us saying, “I can’t”  After losing a few dollars each, most of us broke the habit.  Instead, we were told to say, and think, “Not today.”  It’s not that we CAN’T do it, it’s just that we can’t YET do it.   That stuck with me in a major way.  Lengthy mountain hikes are not my reality today.   Both because of my physical state (simple walks around the block render me out of commission for a day or days afterward), and because of the real possibility of a sudden mountainside panic attack that would leave me begging her to just go on without me.

But I really do want to start hiking again.  The desert is my happy place.  I can breathe easier there than anywhere else.  The solitude and the wide open spaces feel healing, not oppressive.  In fact I’ve pretty much convinced myself if I ever moved back to New Hampshire (or anywhere else surrounded by trees), that I would effectively suffocate.   My mental health thanks me whenever I venture out into the desert.  Plus, I miss my old butt  regaining a higher level of physical fitness is good not just for my body, but also for every other area of my life.  I know this.  I do.

And still, it took me a month of pep-talks to do it.  There’s a nature preserve that’s a five minute walk from my house, and I decided that I would start there. I’d gone for walks on its trails a few times in the past several weeks, but it had been years since I’d climbed to the top of its not-quite-a-mountain.  It suddenly became really important that I do so, as a literal AND symbolic first step.  But first I had to get there.

It’s way too hot.

It might hurt.

I don’t have anything appropriate to wear.

What if I trip on the loose rocks and fall and hit my head and knock myself unconscious?

What if I’m not knocked unconscious, and think I’m fine, but later suffer a brain bleed?

What if I’m near a drop-off and  get light-headed and can’t sit down fast enough to keep from toppling over the edge?

What if I forget to pay attention to where I’m walking and I startle a rattle-snake who thinks he needs to bite me?  (In my defense, of the three live rattlesnakes we’ve come across in the ten years that we’ve lived in Phoenix, one of them was at that very park)

What if I don’t bring enough water and I get dehydrated and can’t go on?  We like to joke about it because of the quote in The Breakfast Club, but I really do have a low tolerance for dehydration.

What if I lose my cell service at the top, and have a medical emergency and can’t call anyone for help?

Etc.

There were a million reasons not to go, and two really really good ones to suck it up and make myself do it.  I deserve to practice self-care.  My kids deserve a healthy mother.  All the people who’ve suffered the collateral damage of my unintentionally treating them like shit for the past year deserve some atonement.  (I guess that’s three reasons.)

Hiking to the top of that ridge wouldn’t cure me.  But it would be something.

So I made myself go, and with each step I repeated a mantra that was more feelings than words.  If it had had words, they wouldn’t have been sweet and flowery, but more like:

Screw you, depression.  Screw you, anxiety.  Screw you, bad discs and chronic migraines and muscle pain and achy joints.  Screw you fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome or whatever the hell else they want to call my mystery ailment this week.  You don’t get to make the decisions for me.   Not today.  All the way to the top, and all the way back down again.

I wish that I could conclude this post with a mountaintop epiphany, or a defining moment of catharsis.  But, you know… sometimes life is epiphanies and defining moments, and sometimes life is just a red-faced, slightly overweight, sweaty middle-aged mom scrambling her way to the top of a rocky hill in Northern Phoenix on a random Wednesday in April.  A girl who felt okay for a moment, but who knows she still has a lot of work ahead of her.

It took 45 minutes, to the top and back down.

I climbed a mountain and I lived.

Today my calves hurt, and I find it delightful because I haven’t done any sort of level of activity that would lead to sore calves for an entire year.  Delightful is good.  Delightful is rare.

And now (if you’ve gotten this far, and if you have, thank you) it’s 12:45 in the afternoon, and I haven’t yet left the couch, but I will. Later I’ll take the 12 year old to football, and the 8 year old to the playground, and I’ll smile politely at the people around me, and they won’t know my secret.  They won’t know that I hurt, in so many different ways.  But they also won’t know my other secret.  They won’t know that I decided I’m stronger than all of it.  They won’t know that I climbed a mountain, or HOW MUCH FREAKING EFFORT it took to do it.  I sometimes often tell Mike how hard it is to be me, how hard it is to live inside my brain, and over the past year inside my body as well.  But I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.  I really wouldn’t. Because the wiring that makes me prone to depression and anxiety is the same wiring that makes me passionate, and creative, and someone who loves and lives and feels deeply.  It’s the same part of me that allows me to express myself through writing! I realized a long time ago that it’s kind of a package deal.

I think there’s a sort of poetic and beautiful and bittersweet synchronicity to the fact that my least favorite part of my psyche comes inextricably linked with my favorite.  I wouldn’t take the magic pill (if such a pill existed) to take away all my problems, if the price was also taking away the very essence of who I am.

So I have to resolve – again and again and again – to do the work I need to do to be well, whatever wellness is going to ultimately look like.  I can’t WILL myself well, this much is true.  But I can take steps, both literal and figurative, towards wellness.  I can.

I CAN.

I have the sore calves to prove it.

P.S.  This article is the most apt description of depression that I’ve ever read.  He so eloquently puts into words what I’ve so often tried – and failed – to write myself.


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Filed under about me, anxiety, depression, health

My Dear Daughter, Your Value Doesn’t Change With What You’re Wearing

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The following was recently passed around Facebook.  (Emphasis at the end is my own.) The author is unknown:

A girl bought an iPad, when her father saw it, He asked her “What was the 1st thing you did when you bought it?

“I put an anti-scratch sticker on the screen and bought a cover for the iPad” she replied.

“Did someone force you to do so?” “No” “Don’t you think it’s an insult to the manufacturer?” “No dad! In fact they even recommend using
a cover for the iPad” “Did you cover it because it was cheap & ugly?”

“Actually, I covered it because I didn’t want it to get damage and decrease in value.”
“When you put the cover on, didn’t it reduce the iPad’s beauty?”

“I think it looks better and it is worth it for the protection it gives my iPad.”

The father looked lovingly at his daughter and said, “Yet if I had asked you to cover your body which is much more precious than the iPad, would you have readily agreed???” She was
mute…..

Indecent dressing and exposure of your body reduces your value and respect.


May God guide us all.

My first reaction was one of disgust.  As my eyes scanned the comments looking for other people who felt the same way I did, I was just met with “Amen”s and “How true!”s.  More disgust.  Had we read the same thing?  The tome that reduced a girl’s body to a physical object?  One that lost its value if it wasn’t clothed in a certain fashion?  One that wasn’t worthy of respect if it wasn’t properly covered up?  I think the thing that bothered me most of all (“bothered” isn’t even the right word… it creeped me right out) was that the father “looked lovingly at his daughter,” before he gave his edict to cover up, like she’d covered up the iPad.  Misogyny and control aren’t love.

Ultimately, reading things like this makes me so overwhelmingly sad.  Sad because they illustrate how far we still need to go.

Sad because they remind me of the prevalent thinking of girls being somehow “less than.”

Sad because they only cheer on the patriarchal society that sees to it that the men get to dictate what women should or should not wear… or do… or think.

Sad because it speaks to the larger issue of a world that somehow simultaneously heralds women as nothing more than sex objects, and disparages them for said sexuality at the same time… calling them whores.  Or loose.  Or easy.

Sad because this is exactly the kind of teaching that leaves girls feeling devalued and worthless, like they don’t deserve love.  They’re nothing more than their bodies, right?  So if they showed too much skin, or looked too attractive, or God forbid engaged in premarital sexual activity… who would want them?  (Many abstinence-only trainings go so far as to compare girls who’ve lost their virginity to used chewing gum.)

Sad because it contributes to a culture of victim blaming that leaves the 1 in 4 women who will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime feeling ashamed, as though it were somehow their fault.

At the time of this writing, my daughter is only eight.  But I fear for her future if this is the kind of thing that people aspire to teach their daughters, and pass on to their sons.  Is this really the message we want to send to today’s young girls? That they’re nothing more than a body?  A body that must be properly covered lest it “lose its value”?

My message for my daughter is very different.   At the end of the day – away from the white noise of society, and the church, and advertising, and television, and social media, and politics – this is what I want my daughter to know:

You, my dear daughter, are amazing.

You are strong, and kind, and creative, and intelligent, and funny.  You have a big, beautiful, giving heart.  You make people laugh. You take care of those around you.  I don’t doubt for a second that you can achieve absolutely anything that you put your mind to.

I hope you know how incredible you are.  I hope you know how much you have to offer.  I hope you know that your value, your worth as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a human soul… it’s infinite.  The world is a better place just because you are in it.

At some point in time, society is going to try to reduce you to just your body, but you don’t have to listen!  I need you to know that you are so much more than your body.  Your body is just a physical place to house your beautiful soul.

I don’t mean to diminish it though, because your body is pretty freaking amazing too!  It lets you run, and jump on the trampoline, and pump yourself high on the swings.  It lets you swim like a mermaid, and give fierce hugs, and bake cookies with your brother.  My hope is that you are kind to your body: That you will treat it well, and feed it good foods, and give it plenty of exercise.  Not for me!, and not to reach some aesthetic ideal, and certainly not for society, but for YOU, so you can keep it healthy and strong so you can do all the things you want it to do.  I hope you take your body on grand adventures.  I hope you build and create things with your hands, I hope you aren’t afraid to get dirty, I hope you use your skills and your time to help others.  Maybe one day you’ll climb to the top of a mountain, or ski down one instead. Maybe your body will one day give birth to a baby, or carry you onto a plane to go adopt one.

Yes, your body will take you to amazing places.  It is is going to grow, and hurt, and heal, and love, and fight.

One day you’ll feel the thrill of a first romantic kiss, and the physical ache in your heart at a romance gone wrong.

It seems grossly superficial and irrelevant to even think about how you are clothed (really, in the grand scheme of things, what on earth does it matter?) but sooner or later someone’s going to make you think that it’s important, and I want you to know this:  I hope you dress in a way that makes you feel beautiful and comfortable and confident.  I hope you dress in a way that reflects you.  I hope you dress in whatever makes you feel best able to grab life by the horns and leave your own unique, indelible mark.  The one that says, “I was here.  And I mattered.”

You will change lives just by existing.  I know, because you’ve already changed mine, and you’re not even nine years old.

And the thing is, no matter what you’re wearing, no matter how much you weigh, no matter what your hair or your face or your body looks like, you STILL HAVE JUST AS MUCH VALUE.

Because your value?  Your worth?  That’s inside of you, and no one can take it away.


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Filed under acceptance, parenting, perspective, respect, self image, Uncategorized

When You Can’t Walk Into Their Room Without Tripping

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Photo Credit:  Matt Gromes

The newest parenting-related picture to go viral on Facebook is a photo of a huge stack of filled trash bags.  Mom captioned the photo with the explanation that her teenage daughter wouldn’t clean her room, so the mom bagged everything up, and was making her daughter pay her $25 a bag to get her stuff back.  It was hard to tell just how many bags there were, as they were all stacked on top of each other, but there were clearly enough for the daughter to owe her mother at least a few hundred dollars.

As is usually the case, the comments were overwhelmingly positive, and the mother was almost universally praised.    I’m always kind of amazed at the feedback on these things.  I’d like to think – really, I need to think – that there are people out there who don’t feel right about it, but who just don’t know what else they would do in that situation.   Or maybe there are people who want to offer some alternatives, but they are shamed into silence by the “Stop being so judgmental!!” crowd.  (By the way, when you publicly boast online about how proud you of are how you’re punishing your children, you are explicitly inviting feedback.   It’s the way the internet works)

Dialogue is a useful thing.  Lots of parents can relate to the struggle of kids and messes, but not every parent chooses punishment and/or shame as a parenting tactic.  There are alternatives to navigating even the messiest of messy rooms, that do not involve bagging up all their stuff and throwing or giving it away, or making them earn it back.

As with everything else, it all begins with relationship:

1. Recognize that everyone is different.  Personality and individual constitution play a big role here.  Some people are naturally very tidy.  Some make a mess everywhere they go.  I am very much the latter.  And while I’ve come to appreciate how much better I operate in a clean, uncluttered environment, it is something that I have to continually work on.  I am 42 years old, and I still have to make a conscious effort to keep things picked up.  Harping on me or shaming me would not only not encourage me, but would also make me angry, and even less likely to put forth the effort.  Kids are no different!  If you make them feel badly about themselves, they’ll live up to the negative.  Instead, help and encourage them, and see what a difference it makes, both in their behavior and in your own peace with the situation.   Accept them the way they are, and resist the urge to compare and pit one against the other. Comments like, “Why can’t you be more like Henry?” are hurtful, and leave scars that last well beyond childhood.

2.  Adjust your expectations.   I am not a big fan of the phrase, “Pick your battles,” but bedroom cleanliness is one area where it may apply.  It’s okay – and yes, even a positive thing! – for them to have the freedom to keep their own personal space the way they like it. Some things shouldn’t be negotiable, for good reason (for example:  leaving food or trash laying around can attract bugs;  too much clutter on the floor can become a safety hazard)  But there is a whole range of happy compromise in between hospital corners and things-are-growing-faster-than-bacteria-in-a-petri-dish.  Adjusting your own expectations and working with your child, rather than against him, go a long way towards both keeping the peace in the home and your relationship intact.

3.  Model taking care of your own things.   I have found, again and again, that when I’m in a good routine myself, the kids tend to magically follow suit. Show them what it looks like to take pride in your home.  Pick up after yourself. Put things away after you use them.  Don’t grumble about housework.  Treat it as an act of service for yourself, and for your family.  Your kids learn far more from watching you than they do from any speeches you may give them about cleanliness.

4.  Ask them to pick up before things get out of control.  I think we have a tendency … (and when I say “we”,  I mean “I”) … I think we have a tendency to let things fester and not say anything about them while they build.  Then, we inevitably get resentful, the situation gets blown out of proportion, and we finally burst.  We finally say something, or ask for help, and we’re not very nice about it.   It is a whole lot easier – and more peaceful for all involved – to say, “Can you please pick up these legos on the floor so I can tuck you in without hurting my feet?” than it is to deal with the fallout of a room that’s reached a level of “We need to rent a dumpster and fill 87 trash bags if we want to see the floor again.”   Getting into good habits, working together, and talking to your kids instead of barking orders helps the entire household run more smoothly and peacefully.  Plus, it is far less work to deal with little messes as they happen than it is to deal with giant messes that have been accumulating over time.

5.  When it does get bad, ask if you can help.  So, you’re thinking, “Picking up before things get out of control sounds nice in theory, but that ship has already sailed.”  I so get it.  Speaking as both a mom and as a person who has a natural tendency to let messes take over:  I think that when it gets to that point, it isn’t so much that your kids don’t want to pick up as it is that they are overwhelmed at the enormity of the project and don’t even know where to start. The struggle is real!  Ask if you can help.  Break it up into smaller jobs and tackle it together.  Do whatever works well to get the job done.  Make it a game, set timers, play some music.  If they don’t mind you touching their things (some of my kids would rather do it themselves, some welcome the assistance), you can even surprise them by doing it for them.  It’s a huge gift to give them, and my daughter in particular is always so thankful.  Then, once you’ve gotten it under control again, re-visit #4.  Repeat as necessary.

6.  Help/encourage them to periodically cull through their belongings.  The less “stuff” you have, the easier it is to keep it organized.   Every so often (ideally a couple of times a year, or at least before big gift-giving occasions like Christmas) help them go through their things to see if there’s anything they don’t want anymore that they can then sell, donate, or give away. Personality plays a large role here too.  Some kids have no problem giving up toys that they don’t play with anymore, even if they just got it a year ago. Others really like to hang on.    Respect where they’re at, and work with them on solutions.  Help them find new homes for the things they don’t want, and help them organize and store the things that are staying.

___________________________________________________

It is a frustrating feeling indeed when messes get out of control.  But giving into that frustration and unloading it via yelling, punishing, or shaming your kids doesn’t help anyone… not you, and certainly not your child.   Instead, take a deep breath, – or 10 or 100 – take the emotion out of it, and work together on solutions.   You’re not going to change your child (and really, would you want to??!!), but you can help him with strategies he can use, both now and in the future.

And as for you as the parent?   Remind yourself as often as necessary that kids are all different, and that that’s okay.  Tell yourself that you’ll respect your kids where they’re at.   Work with your kids on keeping their rooms tidy, but recognize that the space is ultimately theirs, and that that’s okay too.  Decide what is non-negotiable and let go of the rest.

And if all else fails, just shut the door.

 

Have you joined my newsletter? You can also come join the conversation on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and on Snapchat as jenmcgrail.

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Filed under gentle discipline, gentle parenting, housekeeping, parenting

New Projects

startup-photos

I’ve been unfaithful.

I’ve been working on a little side project lately, and while I’ve still got work to do, I wanted to share it with you even in its early stages. Visit Work From Home Oasis, my new site for links and information for free (and legitimate) ways to earn an income online.  It’s been a lot of fun for me, so I hope you love it.

And not to fear, The Path Less Taken isn’t going anywhere!  My focus gets a little divided sometimes, but TPLT was, is, and always will be my baby.  In fact, I’ve been hard at work on some behind-the-scenes stuff here too, and I can’t wait to share it with you.  I will be back with new blog posts here soon.  In the meantime, go check out the new site and let me know if it helps you.

xoxo

**Edited to add:  You can now follow Work From Home Oasis on Facebook as well!**


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When Your Kid’s a Bully: Why Bullying The Bully Is Never The Answer

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There’s a new post going around Facebook, in which a mom outlines the response she had when she learned of her daughter participating in the bullying of another student.

Mom must have been devastated.  Let me just start there.  As a parent, it’s incredibly hurtful to know that your child was the cause of someone else’s pain.  I feel for this mom.  But her reaction, while no doubt well-intentioned, was… misguided, at best, and will only serve to contribute to the cycle of bullying.

Here’s what the mom shared, what kind of effect it’s likely going to have on her daughter, and what I would have done differently:

The first thing she did was “pull(ed) over in the middle of the street and whoop(ed) that ass.”  Next, she walked her into school, and forced her to apologize to the girl she’d bullied.   Then, she made sure she was kept inside from recess, where she had to write a letter of apology to the girl’s mother.  Finally, she shared the whole story online, so I’m assuming others could “learn” from it.  In short, she 1) used physical violence to solve a problem, 2) shamed her daughter in front of her friends/classmates, and 3) shamed her daughter online.  If any of those three things were done by another child, we’d all recognize it for what it is: bullying.  Why do we have such a hard time recognizing it in adults? And why, when there are so many other options available, do we not only accept said behavior coming from a parent, but we praise it?  This mom is now being lauded as mom of the year.

Incidents like this one (and indeed, it’s unfortunately not unique) shine a light on the ever-present hypocrisy of mainstream parenting. Your kid physically hurt someone?  Physically hurt them back.  Your kid shamed someone?  Shame them back.  Your kid humiliated someone?  Humiliate them back.    In as simple of terms as I can put it:  This does not discourage bullying behavior.  It enforces it. The saddest part of this is that the mom realizes that the key to stopping bullying begins with us as parents… but ironically fails to see how she’s contributing.  She ends her post with this:

Parents teach your kids that bullying is not okay!!!
Kids are committing suicide these days!!!
I WILL NOT RAISE BULLIES AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU!!!
IT STARTS WITH US…. LETS BE AWARE!!!

She and I agree on these points to be sure.  Kids do need to learn that bullying is not okay.  The suicide rates are staggering and alarming.  It does start with us.   But you cannot bully a kid into not being a bully.  It doesn’t work that way. Bullying your child erodes your relationship, breaks your trust (at a time when they need it more than ever), and overtly teaches them that  bullying is okay. Your children learn far more from how you treat them then they could ever learn from your words.   Physical punishment, forced insincere apologies, and public humiliation cause more disconnect, more resentment, and more self-esteem issues…. issues that will no doubt surface later in a possible myriad of ways, one of which being:  yup, bullying!  Hurt people hurt people.

As parents, we have a choice.  We can take all our own issues, and baggage, and hurts out on our own kids, and effectively continue the same negative pattern. OR, we can be the grownups, do the work we need to do, and treat our children how we’d like to be treated. The cycle can be broken.

And I know what many of you are thinking:  Well that’s all well and good in theory, but WHAT DO I DO if my child is bullying someone?

It’s a fair question, but it’s unfortunately not one I can answer definitively for anyone else.   There are no surefire prescribed steps to curb bullying. Kids are different, relationships are different, circumstances are different.  If it were my kid though?  This is where I’d start:

1)  Find out why it’s happening.   Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Is someone bullying them?   A classmate, a teacher, a sibling, a parent?  Are they feeling unheard?  Anxious?  Stressed out?  Feeling poorly about themselves?  Is it peer pressure?   Is something going on at home, or in their lives in general?   You cannot even begin to help them until you understand why it’s happening.

2) Listen.  Keep an open, safe, line of communication between yourself and your child.  Hint:  One of the best ways to halt healthy communication is to come out of the gate with harsh words and punishment.  If your child is hurting someone else, chances are he’s hurting too.  Let him tell you about it.  Be his soft place to fall.

3) Talk about how the other person must feel, help your child understand empathy, but don’t force apologies.   You can’t make your child feel sorry until/unless he IS, and forcing the issue is going to cause even more resentment (possibly towards you, and possibly toward the one to whom he’s delivering the apology)  An insincere apology is just empty words.  If my child was unkind to someone else, *I* would be sure to apologize – because I would absolutely be sorry – to both the child and the parent.  I would tell them I was sorry, and let them know that I wasn’t going to ignore the situation.

4)  Model appropriate relationships and kind behavior.  I will say it again.  Your kids learn far more from your behavior than from any words you could ever say.  Show them what kindness looks like.  Show them what friendship looks like.  Show them what respect looks like.  Don’t make fun of others.  Say you’re sorry when it’s warranted.  Treat people (including your own children!) the way you’d like to be treated.

5)  Connect.   Above almost all else, a child who is bullying someone else is needing a healthy connection.   Be that person for your child.  Be the person that your child trusts with his big scary feelings.  Be the person your child can count on, unconditionally, no matter what.  Be the port in your child’s storm.  Nurture your relationship.  Make it a priority.  Make your child a priority.

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A child who is acting out with unkindness towards someone else already has some pretty big upheaval going on.  He NEEDS you to stay calm, he needs you to help him problem solve, he needs you to talk to him, to listen to him, to love him.  He does NOT need to be shamed, or humiliated, or physically harmed.  Most of us recognize that that wasn’t the right course of action for the daughter in this story…. so why on earth would it be the right course of action for a parent?

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Sick Kids, Easter Weekend, And An Upcoming Q&A

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Happy belated Easter to those of you who celebrate!  Easter was…. odd… I guess is the word,  for us this year.   It was quiet and low-key and lovely, but it was still odd.  It was the first time since we’ve lived in Arizona that we spent it alone. Usually we do church followed by a whole family thing at my sister’s, but this year she was out of town, so we decided to celebrate it next weekend instead.  It was just as well, as two of the four kids were sick.   There were no happy, smiley pictures on the couch of us in our Sunday finest (the kids and I never changed out of our pajamas) but there were colored eggs, and chocolate, and Steam gift cards. There was an unplanned run to the grocery store for paper towels and toilet paper.  There were naps by pretty much all the kids, who are mostly currently on a vampire schedule, and whose bodies couldn’t handle the shock of being woken by an excited Tegan at 7:00.

Last night, Tegan’s fever and cough – which she’d mostly fought off up until that point – returned with a vengeance, and this morning I took her to the doctor for the first time since 2011.  Her lungs were thankfully clear, but she was diagnosed with a sinus infection. I never underestimate that mama’s intuition when it comes to whether or not to take my kids in the doctor.

In related news, want to know how to make an introverted homebody grumpy?  (That sounds like a set up to a joke, but sadly it is not) Make her have to give up a coveted, lazy day at home in favor of unplanned trips to the grocery store, the pediatrician, and the pharmacy – twice!

And finally, tomorrow – Tuesday – at 10:00 AM Mountain, I’ll be doing my very first Q&A on Periscope!!  Username = _pathlesstaken. I just very recently learned that Periscope was a thing, and the idea of it terrifies me.    Having my face on camera, while I have to simultaneously convince my mouth to make sounds??  The stuff of nightmares.  But I’ve always* tried to live by the immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Always do what you are afraid to do.”  (*Okay, not always.  I spent the vast majority of my years vehemently avoiding things that scared me.   But I’m working on it.)  So, help me feel better about the whole thing, and come chat and say hi.   I will see you there!

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Have you joined my newsletter? You can also come join the conversation on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and on Snapchat as jenmcgrail.

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