Category Archives: parenting

Sometimes I’m An Asshole (But I Don’t Advertise It On My Car)

A friend recently sent me this photo she came across, I think in equal parts because it irritated her, AND because people like to send me things that they think will irritate me, as an impetus for a new blog post.  (Irritated Jen = Writing Jen)

And she was right, because the photo did irritate me.  I sat on it for awhile though, and looked at it again, and looked at it through different perspectives.  And…. yeah, it still irritates me.

I get it, I think.  I don’t actually think the intention is a bad one.  I think it’s likely an antidote to the “Proud parent of an honor student, blah blah”  (I have my beef with those stickers too).  I think it’s likely just saying, “Hey, my kid’s not perfect, but that’s okay, and I love him anyway.”

But here’s the thing:  Aside from not being particularly nice, stickers like this promote childism in the biggest way.  When was the last time you saw a bumper sticker saying, “My wife sure is a bitch sometimes, but I love her anyway?”  Most rational people would see something like that and recognize that it’s not cool.  Or kind.  Or productive.  But we live in a society where it is not only accepted, but celebrated, to treat kids as lesser than.  To treat kids with less respect and less kindness than we’d treat other family members.  To treat kids with less consideration for their feelings than we’d extend to other loved ones.  To treat kids as less than human.

Are children – any children – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  Are adults – any adults – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  We all have our moments, to be sure.  I’m sometimes less than kind to my husband, and he’s sometimes less than kind to me (Ask us about the recent nearly knock-down drag out fight about asparagus…. except maybe don’t, because I’m not sure all parties are ready to joke about it yet) Everyone has their ugly (re:  HUMAN) moments.  The difference is, in real life, we accept this and work through it and deal with it in a healthy way.  We don’t make announcements about it on our cars.

Stickers like this may seem completely innocent, and funny even.  But in order to accept them, we need to be honest with ourselves and recognize that while sure, it’s dealing with a genuine human condition, it is also unfair and childist, and singling children out in a unkind and hurtful way.  We need to be honest with ourselves and recognize the fact that very few people would be okay and/or humored by this if it singled out wives, or girlfriends, or husbands, or parents.

Until we, as a society, can do that, maybe it’s a message best left off our cars.

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Want To Stop Nagging Your Kids To Do Chores? Then Stop

A few inevitable facts of housekeeping:

  1. If you want to have clean dishes to eat off of, you’re going to have to wash them.**
  2. If you want to have a bathroom – and floors and kitchens and bedrooms – that are at least relatively sanitary, you’re going to have to occasionally make time for some sort of cleaner and a swoop of a mop or a sponge or a paper towel.
  3. If you want to wear clothes that are clean and odor-free, you’re eventually going to have to throw in a load of laundry.

They’re maybe not your favorite things to do – they’re not mine – but they don’t have to be unpleasant drudgery either.  They’re just a part of life, and a part of keeping a nice home.  Viewing them as a voluntary act of service for yourself and your family goes a long way towards making them, at a minimum, more tolerable.

Chores should never be an area of contention between you and your children. 

I see article after article with mainstream advice about how to stop the need for nagging and get your darn kids to just do their chores already.   They may suggest any number of variants of charts or stickers or rewards or punishments, but they all essentially say the same thing:

The answer lies in control and manipulation.

Bribe your kids, punish your kids, reward your kids (which, by the way, are all sides of the same coin).  Just get them to dutifully do what you want.  Then the chores get done, you don’t have to nag, and the problem is solved.  But is it?

Using manipulation or coercion – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what these tactics employ – is a lose/lose proposition.  Sure, it may “work” in the sense that the chores get done, but it comes at a price.

No one likes to be manipulated.  Let’s just start there.  It will cause your kids to resent cleaning.  Or you.  Or both.  And isn’t that the exact opposite of what you want?  Both when it comes to your relationship with your child, and with the harmony of your family working together as one cohesive unit?  Mandating chores, especially in an authoritarian manner, will only make your children view them as, well… chores.  Something unpleasant.  Something that they’re doing simply because they’re forced to do it, and not because it’s nice to have clean floors or clean clothes or clean dishes.  Something that they’re doing because their little sticker chart says it’s time, and not because it feels good to take pride of ownership by taking care of your things and of your space.

And there’s a larger problem.  Children are not second class citizens who are here to do our bidding.  They are human beings who are deserving of the same care and respect and mindful communication as any other loved one.  If I have a problem or a frustration or a concern with my husband, I don’t make him a chart.  I don’t lay out a list of things he needs to do differently to make me happy.

I talk to him.  And I give my kids the same consideration.

So what do you do when you’re finding yourself frustrated with or yelling or nagging your kids about chores?  You stop doing it.  Seriously.  Just stop.  If there’s a chore that’s undone that’s bothering you, do the chore.  Then figure out why it is that you’re so stressed about it in the first place.  If you are yelling or nagging or otherwise being unkind, that’s a *you* problem, not a *them* problem.  It’s not your kids’ job to regulate your emotions or your behavior.

And I get it.  I do.  Sometimes things just get off-kilter.  I get stressed, my routine gets thrown off, I start to get snippy.  When it happens, it’s a sign that I need to 1) Take a step back and evaluate what’s going on with me that’s making me respond that way.  Is it just because we’ve been too busy?  Have I not been taking care of myself?  Am I worried or stressed about something that’s completely unrelated to my house or family?  And 2) Talk to my family about it.  A sincere and forthright, “Hey guys, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately because of xyz, so would you mind giving me some extra help with – {whatever I need help with} – this week?” is a lot more effective, and respectful! than trying to manipulate their behavior through rewards or punishments.  And you know what?  When I do need to ask for extra help, 99 times out of 100 they are more than happy and willing to give it to me.  (The one percent accounts for the fact that they are indeed humans and not robots.)

Finally, because it’s something that gets misinterpreted every single time I write about this:

Does this mean then that I just set myself up as a martyr, someone who does all the housework myself, even to my own detriment?  No!  We all pitch in.  I do do the bulk of it (and I’m happy to do it), just because I’m a stay at home mom and have essentially signed up for this.  But Mike does most of the cooking.  16 year old does the dishes.  20 year old usually takes out the trash and recylables.  9 year old and 12 year old step in with pet care.  And on those deep clean days – AKA company’s coming and things are looking a little squidgy around the edges – any one of us might be yielding that broom, or duster, or mop, or toilet brush…

Without ever having to create a chore chart to make it happen.

(**Or get paper plates and plastic silverware!  You do you.  I won’t judge.)


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Dear Parents Who Are Dreading The Teen Years

paxtontrail

The scene: 

A Wednesday night, after dinner.

I had music blasting on my little bluetooth speaker, because I’d been working on building a new playlist, and wanted to listen to it while I picked up the table.  Paxton, who’s 16 and a talented musician who’s been instrumental (ha, see what I did there?) in helping me discover new bands to listen to, came into the room just as the husband had picked up the ukelele and started to strum along to the music when a new song came on.

“Paxton! This is the Best. Song. Ever” I told him.  “See if you can play it.” 

He grabbed my acoustic guitar from its stand in the corner – where it lives, sadly, mostly untouched by me – and quickly picked up the chorus of the Best Song Ever.  I cranked the volume even further, and he continued to play while Tegan (who’s 8 and never misses an opportunity for a dance party) grabbed my hands and twirled me, laughing, around the room.  Everett (12 going on 17) heard the commotion and eventually joined us, curling up on the couch next to the cat.   The bond he has with that cat gives me serious relationship goals.  Not just pet relationship goals, but relationship goals in general.

The song ended and the next one began… but no one really noticed.  Everett kept petting the cat, and Tegan kept dancing, and Paxton kept playing, challenging himself to play along by ear with even the most unfamiliar songs.

At some point, Spencer (19) came into the room and announced, “It’s so nice having socks.”  We all stopped and looked at him.  If you know Spencer, you know he’s the king of the non-sequitur, but that was random, even for him.  And then I realized he was wearing new socks that he’d gotten for Christmas…. which is the goofiest, most cliche Christmas present ever, except he needed them and wanted them and asked for them.  And in that moment, he appreciated them, and his comment wasn’t so strange after all.   He laughed at the way it had sounded, and we went back to dancing, and singing, and playing.

So is that what it looks like after dinner every night in our house?  Well, no, but it’s not unusual for us either.  And I share it today for one simple reason:  I want you to know, dear-reader-who’s-stressing-out-about-the-teenage-years, that having teens is really freaking FUN.

I always hesitate to pick a “favorite” age, because they’ve all been wonderful.  Seriously.  But I think I enjoy them more and more as the years pass.  I enjoy the snuggly baby years (but then there’s that whole getting no sleep thing), and I enjoy the sweet, exploring toddler years (but then there’s that whole frustration on both of our parts as they learn about and test their budding independence thing), and I enjoy the young childhood years (and really have no disclaimer for that).  But the teen years…  I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated being a parent more than I do right now.

Teens are funny and intelligent and interesting creatures.

Just a few of the many, many reasons I’m enjoying my boys more than ever:

They make me laugh.  We laugh around the dinner table a LOT.  Not politely chuckle, but LAUGH, with full-on snorts and tears and gasps for air.

They make me think.  All three boys have their own ideas and opinions about religion, and about politics.  They have their own unique views about the world around them.  I genuinely feel privileged to get to talk to them about it, to learn from them, to think about things in a new light and in a new way, and to learn to appreciate the world from an angle other than my own.

They inspire me.  If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know about the journey I’ve been on to discover who I am, and what it means to be my own authentic self, not worrying about what others think of me.  But my boys?  They already have that, in spades.  They know who they are, and they have more integrity than I’ve seen in many adults.  This year I got to witness one of my boys carrying something incredibly difficult, and he carried it with so much grace.  It was something that a child never should have shouldered on his own, but something he carried in part to protect me…. and it was poignant and painful and I wish that he hadn’t had to do it.  But it showed me – in a way I hadn’t seen before – how much maturity and class that he possessed.  Light years ahead of where I was at that age.  Light years ahead of where I am at my current age.

They are great friends and companions.  The popular opinion in current parenting lore is that you should avoid being friends with your teens at all cost.  But I think that that’s bunk.  Teens make the best friends!  I love to hike with them, to talk with them, to laugh with them, to share my life with them.  I think that if you’re not friends with your teens you are seriously missing out on something great.

They are interesting conversationalists.  To be clear, I enjoy talking to my kids when they are younger too, but there’s just something really cool about the mature conversations you get to have with teens.  Not only can you talk about shared interests like TV shows and books and movies and music, but you can talk about the sticky things like politics and religion.  You can talk about life and relationships and the thrill of a first love and the betrayal of a false friend.  You can talk about hopes and dreams and disappointments in a way that you just can’t do when they’re younger.  You can talk about Donald Trump, and about news around the globe.  I love hearing my boys’ unique take on current events and all the goings on in their lives and in the world around us.

They still need me.  One of the interesting thing about teens is that while they are often independent adults… sometimes they still just need mom.  They come to me with their problems, they share with me honestly, they get me in the middle of the night when they’re sick.  They ask for advice for everything from blisters to broken hearts to ingrown toenails.  They’re six feet tall and fearlessly forging their own paths…. but I still get to be mom.

Even so,

They’re independent.  There’s a whole new dynamic in the house once you have teens.  They cook for themselves.  They pick up after themselves (sometimes usually).  They do their own troubleshooting.  They largely keep track of their own life.  Just by virtue of their age and ability there is a different give and take in the relationship that didn’t exist when they were younger and required more direct care.  I bring them fresh-baked cookies when they’re at their computers (unless they’ve made them themselves, something that Everett excels at), and they bring me coffee when my cup is empty.

But wait, are there ever bumps in the road?  OF COURSE.  They’re still humans, still doing the human thing.  The reality is that being a teen is hard sometimes, that there are inevitably going to be growing pains, and that sooner or later there are going to be problems to solve and hiccups to be worked through.

Relationships – of any kind – require care and attention, and relationships with your teens are no exception.  But it is NOT a foregone conclusion that when you have teens that they are going to be sullen and angry and rebellious.  A good relationship with your teens is very possible.

Is it work sometimes?

Yes.

It is worth it?

Yes.

Yes.

A million times, yes.

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I’m Loving My Kids And Calling It Kindness

present

Every year at Christmas time, there’s a sudden rush to share articles warning us about “spoiling” our kids.

Don’t get them everything they’re asking for!

Don’t give into their whims!

Don’t SPOIL them!

This one particular piece (titled We’re Killing Our Kids and Calling It Love) that recently came through my news feed brought a dire and overwrought prediction of killing our children through our generosity.    We’re too concerned with our children being happy, she tells us.  So we’re spoiling them, and in turn we’re harming their character.  But wait, is it really so wrong to want to our children to be happy?

According to this author it is.

Isn’t that what we’re after? Happy children?

I hope not.

The measuring stick of successful parenting is definitely not happy children. Well-adjusted, responsible, kind, and selfless? Absolutely. Happy and spoiled? No way.

Later on, she says:

The truth is that giving them everything they want and ask for is the opposite of showing them love. It’s showing them that they’re the center of the universe, and it’s teaching them that the purpose of their lives is fulfillment of their material desires.

Here’s the thing.  The article is making two rather large and erroneous assumptions.  The first is that parents who are generous with their children believe that “things” will buy their child’s happiness, and the second is that spoiling occurs when children are given too much.

Neither of these are true.

To start, happy and spoiled are oxymorons.  A child who is genuinely happy cannot be spoiled, and a child who is genuinely spoiled cannot be happy.  True spoiling occurs not when a child is given too much, but when a child is given too little … No, not too little material things, but too little love, too little attention, and too little connection.  The problem isn’t “stuff”:  the problem is an unhealthy base relationship.  The problem is that the child is not being shown and modeled generosity, or kindness, or respect.  The problem is a lack of a human connection, or an emphasis of stuff in place of relationship.

Giving of ourselves, sharing abundance, and showing our children generosity is not synonymous with “spoiling”.  In fact, you know what happens when you show your kids kindness?  They become adults who are kind.  You know what happens when you show your kids generosity?  They become adults who are generous.

Giving of ourselves as parents is what we should be doing.  We’re hard-wired to selflessly give to those we love.  I see it as my job as a parent (and for that matter, as a conscientious human being) to give more.  Not less.

More generosity.  Not less.

More time.  More attention.  More kindness.

And yes, when we can, more of those material things that make their life more comfortable, or colorful, or enjoyable.   I do want to raise children that are happy.  I want to raise children that are “well-adjusted, responsible, kind, and selfless.”  Of course.  I also want to raise children that know how good it feels to give to the people we love.  I want to raise children that understand that when we give to others it creates more abundance, not less.  I want to raise children that understand that while yes, material things aren’t what make the world go round, that they don’t have to carry any sort of guilt for enjoying them.  (She says as she sips on her overpriced coffee and types away on her laptop on her high speed wifi)  We all have and appreciate certain material things, and to justify our own baubles but purposely deny our children – in an effort to teach some sort of lesson – is inconsistent, hypocritical, and counterproductive.

Giving to our children… truly giving, from the heart… does not spoil them.

Truly “spoiling” a child requires a relationship that is insincere, shallow, and detached.

A relationship in which a child is treated with kindness and generosity is very much the opposite.

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My Daughter Doesn’t Dress For You

teganaseleven

Halloween 2016

My daughter is eight at the time of this writing.  Her wardrobe, besides being fabulous, can best be described as eclectic.  It’s a dress one day, followed by running shorts and a tank top the next, followed by an ever changing mix of leggings and long tops,  and swishy shorts and boots,  and skirts with knee-high socks, and other various combinations that I haven’t even imagined until I’ve seen her put them together.  Last week she wore one of her dad’s t-shirts as a big boxy dress, and believe you me, she rocked it.

One thing she does not do is dress for me.  Or for her father.  Or for her peers.  Or for boys.  She dresses for herself, in whatever way makes her feel comfortable and confident and best able to take on the world as her own wonderfully weird and perfectly imperfect self.  My wish for her is that that always continues, whether she’s eight or twenty eight.

To insist otherwise is to give in to rape culture, and to an increasingly misogynistic society that tells us that 1) girls are nothing more than sexual objects, and 2) boys are nothing more than walking penises, slaves to their animalistic urges.  It is always amazes me each time that I again realize how equally disparaging this view is to both genders.   Can we give ourselves a little more credit?

Women are more than the clothes they wear.

Men are more than hormonally-driven hunters, always on the lookout for the next thing they might want to have sex with.

Which is why articles like this one, by Shelly Wildman, are so concerning.  Titled How Your Daughter Dresses Matters, she explains why as parents we need to be vigilant in ensuring that our daughters are dressed modestly (which sounds pretty difficult, since she estimates that 80% of what we see in stores is inappropriate.)

From the article, in response to a WSJ online article with a quote that said, “We wouldn’t dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: ‘Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven’s sake, get laid!’ But that’s essentially what we’re saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they’re still living under our own roofs.”:

Think about that. If, as mothers (or fathers!), we’re encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately, that’s basically what we’re saying. At the very least we’re saying, “Here’s my daughter. She’s on display. Take a good, long, hard look at her.”

And a few lines later, in describing what the author says to the junior high girls she works with:

Dressing a certain way attracts a certain kind of guy. I doubt very seriously that the kind of guy you want to attract is the kind of guy you’re dressing for when you dress like that. Besides, you are above that. You are better than that. You deserve better than that.  So dress for the guy you deserve.

Oof.

First of all, thinking of your daughter in terms of her hypothetical sex life is gross and inappropriate, to say the least.  I don’t care what she’s wearing or not wearing.  Second, if a parent is equating a specifically dressed daughter with an object on display… the problem lies within the parent.   This is going to sound harsh, but that excerpt literally filled me with revulsion.

Our children are not our possessions to display, nor are they puppets with which to act out our own ideals about  what is and is not “appropriate” when it comes to attire.  They’re humans.

As for the “encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately”, there is a very big difference between respecting autonomy and encouraging inappropriateness.  And who decides what’s “inappropriate” anyway?  You?  Me?  The church elders?  “Appropriate” attire is completely subjective, and it’s both unrealistic and arrogant to think that we can define it for someone else.  I would never encourage my daughter to dress in a way that feels inappropriate to her, or uncomfortable to her, or inauthentic to her. 

What I will encourage?  Self-respect.  Self-love.  Self-confidence.  An intrinsic need to think, and act, and dress out of a deep respect for herself... not for me, not for you, and certainly not – as the second quote advises – to land the man of her dreams.  Sorry (#notsorry) current eight year old boys who might one day want to date my daughter: She’s not going to dress for you.

She’s going to dress for herself.

And I can’t speak for the rest of the moms or daughters out there, but if my daughter does in fact choose to be in a relationship with a man:  The man she deserves is one who doesn’t give a single wit about the clothes she’s wearing, and instead sees the person underneath.

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Teens, Privacy, And Why The Only Text Messages I Read Are My Own

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I’m a pretty private person.  Maybe that sounds weird coming from someone who has shared many intimate details about her life over the past several years, but I am.  Not just when it comes to my personal relationships (though certainly, I’m private about those too) but also regarding some of the things I have on my laptop, and in my phone, and in my desk.  And it’s not that I’m hiding anything or ashamed of anything, or feel I’m doing anything “bad”.  It’s just that some things are… well, private.  I keep journals, I’m constantly writing little notes and reminders to myself, I often write emails and potential blog posts that don’t ever make it out for public consumption.  Over the past three months, I’ve also been keeping a notebook for therapy.  I’ll carry it back and forth every week and jot down notes of things I want to remember, homework he’s given me, issues that come up for me during the week, and things I want to talk about next time.  Sometimes it’s in my purse or in the car, but most often it’s sitting right out on my desk, so it’s easily accessible throughout the week.  As personal as it is, I never worry that anyone’s going to open it.  Why?  Because we all respect each other’s privacy.  On those rare occasions that Mike needs something out of my purse, or from my desk, or to access something in my email, he’ll ask.  I trust and expect and appreciate that within the four walls of my own home, I have a modicum of privacy.

Why wouldn’t I give my teens the same consideration?   (I’ll get back to that later).

I remember being a teenager.  Quite well in fact.  It’s been 26 years since I was 16, but for as fresh as the memories are, it may as well have been two.  It was fun and exciting.  Difficult and hurtful.  Confusing and overwhelming.  I remember feeling like life was an emergency… like it was all just SO MUCH.  Such blindingly beautiful high highs, and such agonizingly painful low lows (In hindsight, I don’t know how much of that was normal teenage angst, and how much was the fact that I had an untreated mental illness.  But I digress.)

I don’t agree with all the decisions my parents made when it came to raising me – not because they weren’t good parents, but just because evaluating and re-evaluating and learning ways to improve on what was done before us is what evolved humans do.  But one area where I feel they absolutely got it right was how they parented me as a teen.  They gave me space.  They respected my privacy.  They respected my friendships.  They allowed me the room to have my own relationships, and my own conversations, and my own whispered late-night phone calls.  They trusted that they’d raised me with a good head on my shoulders.  They gave me the freedom I needed to learn what it meant to be independent, to make my own decisions, and yes, to make mistakes and ultimately grow from them.  They did all of that while still letting me know that they were there for me, that they loved me, and that when I had a problem… they’d have my back.

Now that I think about it, that’s the way most of my friends were raised as well.  And I can’t but wonder:  When did we stop trusting our teens?

I see article after article warning parents to keep stricter tabs.  Know all their social media passwords (if you even let them have social media), read through their texts, monitor their photos.  In short:  Don’t let them have a private life at all.

And I get it (kind of.)  We all want to keep our kids – of all ages – safe.  We want them to be happy and healthy.  We want them to make good decisions.  But did you ever stop to think about the fact that in order to learn to make good decisions, they at some point have to be given the trust and the freedom to actually practice making those decisions in the first place?  Monitoring their every move actually robs them of the chance to grow, to mature, and to make healthy decisions in the absence of someone looking over their shoulder.

But it’s more than that.

Teens are human beings who are deserving of their own space, their own privacy, and their own right to have personal conversations and exchanges with their friends.  Full stop.  And when it comes to things like reading their text messages, you’re not just inserting yourself into your OWN teen’s private life, but into the private lives of their friends as well.  Even if you fully believe it’s your right as your teen’s parent (something I strongly disagree with, to be clear), is it right to read the private words of someone else’s teen?  Words that he or she believed would be for one person, and one person only?  Where does it stop?

Right before I started writing this post, I went for a run with my 12 year old.  As we were cooling down, we talked about the pros and cons of the different ways of keeping in touch online.  (He’s a Skype fan, and I pretty much avoid it at all costs) He told me about some new games he’s been playing, and which friends he’s been chatting with.  I told him about what I was about to go home and write about, and he was initially aghast at the idea of parents reading their kids’ private things.  He thought about it for a few seconds, and eventually asked me why anyone would do that.  I answered that they just want to keep their kids safe.  As usual, he responded more succinctly and with much fewer words than I could ever muster: “Or they could just raise them right so that they know how to keep themselves safe.”  Indeed.

You know what else helps keep your teens safe?  An open line of communication with their parents, one that’s born of trust, mutual respect, and genuine relationship.  Breaching that trust and snooping through private correspondence is pretty antithetical towards that end.

And listen, I know people are going to disagree.  That’s okay.  But for me and my teens:  I’m going to keep talking to them.   Keep being involved.   Keep listening.  Keep being a safe sounding board.  Keep loving them unconditionally.  But ultimately giving them the trust and the space and the freedom to have their own private lives;  lives I’ll occasionally be invited to visit, but that will otherwise grow and flourish and exist without me.


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Raising My Orchid Child

Today’s post is a guest post from someone who could relate to my recent stories about my own mental health issues (and the decision to use medication as part of my treatment).  I thought it segued nicely from my most recent post about my complicated relationship with natural health.   I think a lot of parents out there will be able to see themselves/their child in this story.

boyinsweater

Here I am, where I never thought I would be. I have a child who is not receptive to my magical way with children. This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with as an adult. This child is not just some child off the street who didn’t connect with me, as a teacher or mentor, whose family decided I wasn’t a good fit for them. This is a child born of my womb. He is beautiful. He is creative. He steals the hearts of anyone who gets to know him. But he was not connecting. There was no amount of cuddles and love that happened between us that helped change him into a well-mannered, calm, sociable child. He was not receptive to my parenting.

Before you start telling yourself , “She is obviously a self-centered, egocentric know it all”, I need you to understand that I love to be challenged and questioned. I am always looking to be better. I altered my parenting as much as I possibly could, but no amount of parenting was going to take the Sensory Processing Disorder out of my child. I tried love. I tried diet change. I tried firm (read gentle, but firm) discipline. I tried therapy. I even attempted school. I tried isolation (for his and his friends’ safety). I tried simplification of everything from his schedule to his lifestyle. Minimalism is a way of life for us.  I was willing to try anything a pro thought would help. There was just NO WAY I was going to medicate him for anxiety.

The fact is, Sensory Processing Disorder is not something that has a quick fix. It is not something we can change about a child. Imagine walking into a room and feeling every ounce of energy in the room; all the sadness, excitement, anger. You name it, you feel it. Imagine there are 10 people in the room and half of them you do not know, but you feel their energy. You feel it fully, as if it were your own. Imagine seeing every color in the room. The slight hue of blue that is different on one wall than another and the orange that makes a friend’s red hat slightly brighter than his friend’s red hat. You hear every thought, as if they are sounds coming from the company’s mouth. Imagine trying to organize those thoughts and do so before you forget what you wanted to say.

How do you feel? Are you feeling anxious? Not sure what to do? Imagine that the adults in your life don’t understand this about you. Oh, your mom does. Your dad does. Imagine feeling so much love for them, but hearing them have to explain you to other people. Imagine feeling their anxiety about how people will take you. Imagine hearing a grandparent who barely knows you tell your mother that she had better get control of you before you run the house. Imagine being asked why you cry so easily. Imagine a child of the same age hitting you as a game or teasing you for fun and the adults doing nothing. Imagine that everything you know in your heart is wrong or sad or unhealthy is ignored by the masses.

How would you feel?

I am guessing you would feel anxious. Well, you know what? I can protect him from all of these things. I can keep him safe and only with people who understand him and offer him grace and see his beauty. I will keep him near people who see that he can take 3 combined Thomas the train puzzles with slightly different hues of blue in the sky and put them together faster than I could put one together, by seeing the difference in the back ground. I can manage his people to be only those who offer him calm. Guess who that would eliminate from our life though? Probably you. You might not realize that you make him anxious, but just wearing the wrong pair of shoes can make his senses go haywire. Bringing his favorite snack can make his senses explode.

So, you know what? I am going to ask you NOT to give an opinion on my parenting around him. I am going to ask you not to offer an opinion about him. I’m going to ask you to not bring his favorite snack. All you will do is build his anxiety. All you will do will make him feel those huge emotions even bigger than he normally does. You know what happens then? He does what we call cycling. He tolerates nothing. His senses go haywire and he becomes someone watching his body from the outside. After his body takes on a mind of its own, he feels anxious about his actions and he goes more haywire. He becomes completely out of control and he HATES it. The more out of control he becomes the more anxious he becomes. It is a spiral. It comes on quickly and no one can stop it. Trust me: I. Have. Tried. He. Has. Tried.

So, let me go back. I can eliminate all people and activities and things that make him anxious. I can. It is what I have done in the past. I can eliminate his life of anything but where this Orchid child is protected and safe from people who can not offer him grace. It is so tempting to go for the long haul and protect him and guide him and hope that once he is an adult, he will be able to filter the information flooding his brain. Or, I can help him now. I can help him learn a new norm. I can let the doctors medicate him. I can let him live in society and still feel his emotions and never punish him for them; because that is the stupidest thing I have EVER heard. Whether you believe in punishment or not, punishments are NEVER for emotions.  Punishing a child for feeling is asinine. That is all I have to say about it. I will not punish my child for feeling beautiful, healthy emotions; but if I can help him feel safe NOW and feel those emotions a little less NOW… if I can turn down the volume just a hair; why wouldn’t I? And, you know what? It took me three years to accept it, but my child is happy and in control of his feelings. I have medicated him and I am proud of myself for coming to this decision. I am proud of myself for taking this long and trying anything and everything to help him. I am proud of myself for saying “my child needs help that I can’t give him”. I am proud of myself for parenting my Orchid child the way he needs to be parented. I am proud of myself for knowing that my child is more than his SPD and his anxiety.

It turns out that my child has heard everything we have been teaching him. He heard it. He felt it. He saw it. Now, he can express it. It won’t be linear. It won’t be consistent and it won’t be forever. We will still need to make and cancel plans at the spur of the moment. I know that probably bothers you.  But guess what? Now, he enjoys jokes, family barbecues, athletics, friends coming over and, selfishly; me…

and maybe even you.

~ Anonymous


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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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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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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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