Category Archives: parenting

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Not a lot of things make me angry.

A lot of things make me react, for sure, but I tend more towards melancholy, hurt feelings, depression.  But anger isn’t generally one of my bigger go-to’s.  Having said that, I have spent a VERY large portion of the past 18 months being extremely angry at my therapist.

At least I thought it was anger.

What I realized somewhere along the way was that 98% of the time, it wasn’t really anger at all.  I was uncomfortable because he’d challenged my core beliefs.  I was defensive because deep down I knew he was right.  I was embarrassed because he’d brought things to light that I’d have rather kept hidden.  I was frustrated because he’d put the onus on ME to examine, to question, to choose whether or not I was willing to change something that wasn’t serving me, or wasn’t serving the people I loved.

None of those things are the same as anger.  It’s just that it’s So. Much. Easier. to blame someone else than it is to do the uncomfortable, messy, hard (soooo freaking hard) work of actually doing a little bit of self-reflection.  If I blamed HIM, then I got to completely let myself off the hook.  I didn’t have to admit, or change, a single thing.

But the thing is … it wasn’t him.  It was me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger the past few days, ever since I read the comments on my “Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas” post when it ran on Scary Mommy.  I stopped reading after the first couple hundred, because after awhile they all honestly sounded the same.  I’m judgmental, I’m arrogant, I’m sanctimonious, and screw you, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-with-my-kids.  Ad nauseam.  By the way, while I’m on the subject, the not-really-a-word word, “Sanctimommy,” is THE silliest, most ridiculous word to come out of the internet, and the idea that I’m supposed to be offended or feel bad to have it hurled in my direction is…. laughable, at best.

The one big theme I saw though, the one that ran through nearly all the comments, was anger.  Dear Lord, so much anger.  Anger directed at me, for…. daring to suggest we be nicer to our kids.  Does anyone else see the irony in that?  Nothing makes people angrier faster than proposing a little more respect.  A little more grace.  A little more understanding.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than challenging the status quo.  Challenging the idea of punishment, of spanking, of time-outs, of manipulation.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than bringing up the idea that YES, children can learn discipline, and self-control, and empathy, and personal responsibility without being shamed and threatened into it.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than the assertion, that yes, gentle parenting is not only possible, but is in fact preferable, for all parties.

But I don’t actually think it’s anger.

There’s always much ado about the fact that “there’s no right or wrong way to parent”, and that to suggest otherwise is arrogant and judgmental.  Well, sorry (except I’m not), but I do believe that kindness is always the right choice.  I do believe that respect is always the right choice.  I do believe that treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated, that treating our kids like HUMAN BEINGS instead of second class citizens is always the right choice.  Always.  Every time.  And it’s a hill I’d be willing to die on… any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

And I wonder, if you’re so confident in your own choice, why on earth would it make you so angry if someone else suggested something different?

It’s likely because you’re not really angry.  You’re uncomfortable, you’re defensive, you’re frustrated, you’re embarrassed.  Your toes have been stepped on.  But you’re not actually angry.  And you’re certainly not angry at me.  You don’t even know me.  But just like with me and my therapist, it’s easier to be angry at me than it is to actually think about anything I said.  To actually ponder it.  To actually wonder if I made any sort of point worth listening to.  It’s easier to make it my fault.  To call me names.  To call my kids names.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to church with any regularity, but I have some very strong memories of some sermons that really affected me.  And they were never sermons that were sunshine and rainbows, never sermons that patted me on the back for what I was already doing.  No, they were the ones that called me out, the ones that challenged me.  The ones that stepped on my toes.  The ones that made me want to hide, red-faced, under the pew because surely he was talking directly about me.

So I get it.  I actually do get it.

But I think that parents – ALL OF US as parents – should be nicer to our kids.  And no negative comment will ever change that.

So call me names.  Call me judgmental.  Call me arrogant.  I can take it.  But some day, at some point, you might want to admit the fact that it’s not actually me you’re mad at.


signature

1 Comment

Filed under gentle parenting, parenting

Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas?

Why do the holidays seem to bring out the worst in people?  Don’t answer that yet.

And why, WHY, do people insist on treating their kids like they’re not even people?  Don’t answer that yet either.

Christmas depresses me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I love Christmas.  I love making it special for my kids, love giving presents, love making cookies, love the food, love the festivities.  This year is a mellow year for us.  We just came off the nine-year-old’s play, which was taking a lot of time, especially during that final tech week.  And my semester just ended, the same week as her play.  So right now, I’m exhaling.  Exhaling and getting ready to enjoy the holidays, but not freaking out about getting anything in particular done in time.  What will be will be, and it’ll be nice.

But it still depresses me.

Mainstream parents tend to go a little crazy this time of year.  I’ve never made any secret about the fact that I disagree with mainstream parenting in general… but never do I disagree with more fervor than at Christmas time.

I don’t have the vocabulary to express how much I hate some of what goes on during Christmas.  (And by the way:  Like they say in the movie Stepmom, hate isn’t a word I use often.  I think it’s a “perfectly acceptable word, but only to be used when I truly detest something”)  I truly detest what some parents do this time of year.

I wrote about the Santa Cams a few weeks back, but the latest thing that’s been brought to my attention is the idea of “present jail.”  In a public post that is getting praised up and down on Facebook, one mom posted a picture of a cardboard box with some presents in it, and writes:

So….we started this yesterday because one little girl refuses to listen and behave. Any present still in the box at Christmas goes put up and can only be EARNED back by good behavior. If they can follow the rules and be good for an entire day, they can return a jailed present back to the tree. Sometimes having a visual helps a lot more than just telling them. And they have to put the present in there themselves. Presents are a privilege not a right, naughty children do not get gifts for misbehaving. #meanmom

The first time a friend showed it to me, I said, “I should write about that.  But how many times, and how many ways can I say, “BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS?”  I’ve said essentially the same thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

And I’m saying it again, I think in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read my words, and say, “Oh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  One person.  That’s all.  And maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’re the one I’m talking to.

This whole idea of earning gifts is archaic and cruel and the exact antithesis of what gift giving should be.  Gift-giving should be unconditional.  That’s the whole point.  Gifts should be something that come from the heart of the giver, with no strings, and no expectations.  Buying a gift, and then taking it away as punishment?  It ceases to be a gift … even if they “earn” it back.  You took something that should have been an expression of love and turned it into an ugly and void commodity.  Congratulations.

And why just the kids?  Why do kids need to earn their presents?  If you buy your husband a new watch, and he comes home from work grumpy one day, do you hold it ransom?  Do you tell him you bought him a present, but he doesn’t get it unless he “behaves.”?  That is not a way to treat someone you love, no matter their age.  It seems kind of ludicrous to think about doing it to a spouse or a friend or another adult loved one, so why, WHY would anyone think it’s okay to do to kids?  As horrible as I think it’d be to do to an adult (and I do indeed think it’s pretty darn horrible), I think it’s a million times worse to do it to your kids.  Your kids are still learning.  Still figuring things out.  Still working out how to deal with their feelings, and how to to navigate a world that is nuanced and tricky and at times extremely complicated.  They need parents who are going to love them through it, to be by their side, to model appropriate behavior.  And at this time of year, they need parents to show them what giving really means.  Can you imagine the sad and confusing message it sends to them about generosity to be told that they have to earn their gifts?   That their gifts can be taken away at a moment’s notice if they’re “naughty?” Naughty, by the way, is a word that should never be used for a child, or anyone, especially one who is just trying to deal with something difficult the best way they know how.  They need our HELP, not our punishment and our shame.

I’ve had a few moments over the past month or so that I’m not proud of.  I’m a human, and I’m not perfect.

Guess what?  Your kids are humans and are not perfect either.

They deserve your love, your compassion, and yes, they deserve your generosity!  Whether it’s in the form of your time, of an experience, of something handmade, of something they’ve been wanting from a store.  It feels good to give to people we love.  At least it’s supposed to!  I can’t imagine it feels good to hold presents hostage, unless it honestly makes you feel good to do something unkind, which…. isn’t right.  It’s just not.  We’re not designed that way.  We’re designed to love unconditionally, to give without expectation, to show our kids (through our words, through our actions, through our time) that they matter.  That we love them.  That we are, in fact, their biggest fans.  Their biggest supporters.  Their biggest role models.  The ones they can count on when life gets squidgy, and the ones who will stand beside them when they’re scared, telling them, without a moment’s hesitation, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”

It feels good to love with that kind of love, because IT IS GOOD.

Nothing about buying and withholding gifts (and being so dang proud of it) fits into this model of true, unconditional love.  In fact, it downright perverts it.

Kids need and deserve our love and compassion all year round, but especially during the holidays.  Schedules are messed up, sleep is spotty, there’s extra excitement and stimulation and fancy foods, and it’s no wonder a child – or an adult – would be out-of-sorts.  LOVE THEM THROUGH IT.  Help them.  Don’t punish them.  Don’t turn gifts, something that should be fun and loving and happy, into a gross display of power and intimidation.  Don’t teach your kids that gifts should come with strings attached.  Don’t teach your kids that other people are theirs to control and manipulate.  Don’t teach your kids that the way to solve a problem is through shaming and scare tactics.

Please, please don’t.

This Christmas, be nice to your kids.  Please.  Treat them like people.  Treat them the way YOU would like to be treated.

And I’m pretty dang sure you wouldn’t want your new iPhone taken away because you were a little snippy one day.

Be nice to your kids.

____________________________________________________

This post was also syndicated and appeared on Scary Mommy, and was mentioned on The View!


signature

16 Comments

Filed under Christmas, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting

6 Rules I’d Never Use For My Toddlers

  1.  I have evil friends who send me links to articles that they know I’ll want to refute, especially articles that are in list form.  I can never resist them.  They just make it too easy.  And,
  2. My obligatory disclaimer: This post is about ideas, concepts, and philosophies.  It is not an attack on an individual.  I don’t know the author of the original article.  In fact on a second look, I couldn’t even find an author credited.  It was published by a Montessori School.  They gave their point of view;  I’ll give mine.  It’s kind of how the internet works.

Having said that:

The article in question is one titled, Six Unusual Rules For Disciplining Your Toddler That Are Effective.  The author and I…. disagree.  🙂

I don’t have a toddler anymore (at the time of this writing, my youngest is 9), but I remember the toddler years very, very well.  The author and I do agree on one thing:  toddlers definitely require a very specific type of parenting.  But we part company on what that specific type of parenting might entail.  Toddlers need a ton of patience, a ton of understanding, and a ton of grace.  It is HARD to be 1. 2, 3 years old.  Their list, unfortunately, takes none of this into account.

Here are their six rules, and why I’d do things differently.

Rule #1: “If you’re in the room while I’m working, you need to work also.”

What’s the goal? As you complete your chores, your children should stop bothering you or help ….  Tell her she doesn’t have to help you, but she can’t just sit there and watch you; she must go in another room. She’ll have the option to help you with your chore and be with you or be by herself.

Oof.  This genuinely makes me sad.  First, kids (and toddlers especially!) love to be with their parents as they work, whether it’s on laundry, sweeping the floor, or making dinner.  They also generally love to “help” – help is in quotations only because a 12 month old unfolding your freshly folded laundry to put it in a new pile isn’t technically helping… but she sure feels proud about doing it!  As they get older, more able to follow directions, and more dexterous, they’ll enjoy helping in more and more ways.  And if they don’t want to help?  Maybe they just want to be with their parent.  Maybe they just enjoy your company.  Maybe they want to chat.  Good grief, let them!  Don’t banish them to another room. Life is short.  Time with your kids is precious and fleeting.  For real.  In a couple of months, my oldest “baby” is turning 21.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing parts about this point is when they say that this rule works because “she’s given a choice so she’ll feel as if she’s in control of the situation even though she’s really not.”  What’s described in this sentence is manipulation…. and manipulation of someone we love is never, ever a cool thing to do.

My alternative rule:  If you’re in the room while I’m working, you’re welcome to help.  If you don’t want to help, you’re welcome to just keep me company.

Rule #2: “You get whatever you get so don’t get upset.”

What’s the goal? It ends the bargaining over such things as the color sippy cup he gets, which kids TV character is on his paper plate, which sheets are on his bed, etc.

This is just being controlling for the sole sake of being controlling.  I ask you, seriously, WHY can’t your child have the sippy cup he wants, or the paper plate that he wants, or his preferred sheets on his bed?  The answer to that question generally lies somewhere in the vicinity of, “Because they need to learn that they can’t always get what they want!” And/or “Because they need to learn that life isn’t fair!”  Yes, sure.  We can’t always get what we want.  And life isn’t always fair.  But guess what?  These are lessons that life and circumstances will, unfortunately, teach them… ideally with you as the parent at their side to help them navigate.  You don’t need to actually CREATE harsh lessons for your kids just because you can!  On the contrary, home should be the safe space, the soft spot to fall, the place where you can drink from your favorite cup.  I have a favorite cup (actually I have several of them, depending on my mood, what I’m drinking, etc) and I always make sure to use it.  Am I so inflexible that I literally can’t muster up the emotional fortitude to drink out of another one if need be?  Of course not. But you guys:  we all have likes and preferences.  A favorite cup is such a simple, simple way to honor your kids’ likes and wishes and show them through that one small gesture – which feels like a BIG gesture – that you love them.

My alternative rule:  I will always try to listen to your needs, respect your requests, and YES… you can have the purple sippy cup.

Rule #3: “We aren’t going to argue about money.”

What’s the goal? Prevent your toddler from pleading and begging for things.

Here’s the thing about money (and I have been married for nearly 25 years and we have run the full gamut when it comes to our money situation):  There are three general scenarios when it comes to requests at the store.  1) Sometimes you simply don’t have the money for something.  You just don’t have it.  In which case, it’s entirely appropriate to tell your child, “I’m sorry, we can’t buy that today, but we can put it on your wishlist/get it next payday/save up for it”, whatever.  This is both honest and fair.  Might your child still be upset or disappointed?  Sure!  I’m sometimes upset and disappointed when something’s out of my price range too.  But you honor their feelings, you help them through it, and you move on.  2) Sometimes you do have the money, and you don’t want to part with it for some reason.  Maybe you’re judging how they want to spend it.  Maybe you want to spend it on yourself.  Maybe you just feel inconvenienced by the whole thing and saying “no” seems the simplest option.  If that’s the case, I’d gently suggest doing a little work to find out why you’re saying no.  Maybe you have a perfectly valid reason.  Or maybe you’re being a hypocrite who’s telling her child, “We’re not buying extras today,” at the very moment that you’re paying for your overpriced Trenta caramel iced coffee with an extra shot of espresso.  (True story) Getting at the “why” is important, for both of you.  3) You do have the money, and you say, “yes!”  This is honestly one of my simplest pleasures as a parent.  I love being able to be in the moment, and gift my kids with something that will make them happy…. whether a pack of gum, a cake pop from Starbucks, or more slime supplies from Hobby Lobby.  There is nothing wrong with saying yes to your kids.

Learning to say yes more often to my kids was one of the simplest, single most life-changing parenting decision I’ve ever made.  We are designed to want to give to those we love (in both tangible and non-tangible ways)  It feels good to give because it IS good to give!  It is a win-win for both parties.  The author’s takeaway from this point is, “The way this works is if she asks for you to buy, say, a toy then you say “yes” or “no” and nothing more.” I think my kids, even as young kids, are always deserving of honestly, the right to ask questions, and the right to a discussion.  (P.S.  A discussion isn’t the same thing as an argument.)

My alternative rule:  If we have the means, I will try to say “yes” to your requests as often as possible.  If I say, “no”, you are absolutely welcome to ask why, and I will always give you an honest answer.

Rule #4: “There isn’t any such phrase as ‘I’m bored’.”

What’s the goal? This teaches your small fry to entertain himself.

So, first of all, I have taken some long (LONG), required history classes in college with really, really dry teachers.  BOREDOM IS REAL.  Let’s just start there.  It’s not a bad thing to be bored (some great ideas sometimes manifest themselves out of boredom), nor is it a bad thing to help your child think of something to do to alleviate said boredom, if he desires that help.  We all get bored from time to time.  As adults, we’ll often say, “Hey, I’m bored.  Want to go for a walk, go see a movie, go get some frozen yogurt?” This rule is another example of expecting your child to be a robot, rather than a human being… AND expecting more of him than you do from adults.  People get bored!  It’s okay!  Your “small fry” will learn to entertain himself all on his own, all in his own time.  It’s controlling and cruel to tell him 1) that he’s not allowed to feel something 2) that the something he reports feeling doesn’t even exist, and 3) that you refuse to help him with the problem – if he does in fact, view it as a problem.  If one of my children announces that they’re bored (which they honestly don’t do all that often, mostly because they do know how to entertain themselves, despite my not having ever implemented rule #4) I’d ask if they wanted some help thinking of suggestions.  Oh and by the way, making your kids do chores when they’re bored – a popular suggestion in mainstream parenting – is also controlling, and cruel, and completely counter intuitive to actually helping them learn to navigate boredom in a healthy way.

My alternative rule:  If you’re feeling bored, feel free to ask me to help brainstorm.

Rule #5: “I’m not working after 8 pm.”

What’s the goal? It creates established bedtimes as well as time for yourself …Tell your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 pm. But hold firm to your conviction and pretend that it’s out of your control.

From the “It should go without saying” department:  Parenting is a 24 hour job.  I hate to break it to you.  Yes, time for yourself is important, and yes, as kids get older you’ll be able to have more flexibility in this area.  But when kids are little, especially when they are toddlers, they might need you at 9:00.  Or at midnight.  Or at 2:00 in the morning.  I’m really glad that this was a rule we never implemented in my family, because some of my favorite memories of the kids were snuggled up on the couch watching TV together, sitting around the kitchen table for endless amounts of time, piling in bed to watch a movie.  Chatting. laughing, having deep conversations.  I wouldn’t give any of it up, for any amount of missed sleep.  I’M THE MOM.  I’m always the mom, and I don’t stop being the mom just because the clock strikes a certain hour.

Also, telling “your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 PM” is a flat-out-unabashed lie.  Like manipulating, lying isn’t something you should do to people you love.  It’s just not.

My alternative rule:  I’m your mom 24 hours a day.  Full-stop.

Rule #6: “When you talk that way, I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

What’s the goal? It helps to stop screaming, rudeness and whining.

This is the only rule that I (kind of, sort of) agree with, only in the sense that it’s okay, and preferable, to set boundaries for yourself, and for how you’re treated.  But – and it’s a big but – just like adults, kids are allowed a full range of emotions, of feelings, and of opinions.  Sometimes strong feelings come out sideways (this does not just apply to kids).  Sometimes we whine when we’re upset (this does not just apply to kids).  Sometimes we say things in the heat of the moment that we might not otherwise say (this does not just apply to kids). And sometimes we take things out on the most convenient target, even if it’s someone we love (again… this does not just apply to kids).  We are HUMAN BEINGS, and we possess a giant array of feelings, of behavior, and ways of expressing ourselves. In a perfect world, we’d all behave politely and communicate maturely every second of every day.   But it doesn’t always work like that.  Which is where grace comes in.  Sometimes heaping amounts of grace.  Yes, setting boundaries is important, and yes, it’s absolutely okay to talk to your child – in much the same way you’d talk to an angry spouse or friend or family member – about their delivery (for lack of a better word).  But their feelings, like ALL their feelings, have validity.

Finally, the author says, “When toddlers do any of those things, they’re only looking for drama or attention.”  Maybe so.  But if they’re looking for attention in such a volatile way, perhaps it’s because they’ve failed to get it elsewhere.  Perhaps their “screaming, rudeness, and whining,” is in fact, a literal cry for help.  Behavior never exists in a vacuum.  Find out why it’s happening, and you can address your issue.   Ignoring your child, shutting him down, or insisting he stay quiet will ultimately only make the situation (and your relationship) worse.

Children are to be seen AND heard.

My alternative rule: Come to me when you’re upset, and we’ll figure it all out together.

________________________________________

The article closes with this:

We’re sure there are more fantastic rules like these out there—or perhaps you can create some of your own. Yes, it’s true that some of these (or maybe all) aren’t really rules but rather an announcement of policies in your home. Either way, whatever you call them, they’re sure to make your life (and your toddler’s) go a bit smoother.

Sure, it’ll make your life go a bit smoother if your goal is to have quiet, compliant, obedient children.  But if you want to have…. REAL children?  Children who feel valued, and confident, and loved?  Children who know who they are, who own their feelings, who stand up for what’s right? Children who are capable of healthy and genuine connections with their parent/s and with the people around them?  You might consider doing the exact opposite.


signature

4 Comments

Filed under gentle discipline, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting

9 Reasons I (Still) Refuse To Be The Meanest Mom

Someone recently asked me when I was going to stop writing about not being the “mean mom.”  My answer?  As long as people keep writing articles glorifying being mean, I’ll keep writing about the alternative.

This one, published by Scary Mommy, was the latest one to come across my desk, but there is no shortage of others.  Be the mean mom, they tell us, not the nice mom.  Not the cool mom.  Not the friend.  In reading this one for a second time, I see and understand that it was written in a sort of tongue-in-cheek, humorous style.  And please understand, it’s not that I don’t have a good sense of humor.  I do.  (Ask my dog.  He thinks I’m freaking hysterical.)  I just don’t happen to find humor in disparaging kids, and in treating them as less than …. which is exactly what articles like this do.

The other side deserves to be heard.  The other side needs to be heard.  Here then are the author’s 9 reasons for being the mean mom, and my response from the other side.

1. I’m not your friend.  Not even close.

I say:  I will always be your friend… the best friend you could ever ask for.  I’ve written about being friends with my kids again and again.  And I’ll continue to do so.  For me, it’s pretty simple.  Friends are going to come and go, for a variety of reasons.  But as parents, we have the unique opportunity to be the friend that’s always there.  The trusted rock that our kids can count on… not just now, but for the rest of their lives.  I will proudly, unabashedly, always be that friend for my kids.  In fact I strongly believe that it’s one of my most important jobs when it comes to being a mother.

2.  I’m not here to be cool.  I’m here to raise cool kids.

This is one thing we may partially agree on.  Anyone who ever accused me of trying to be cool wouldn’t get very far.  I’m pretty much a big dork.  I’m socially awkward, I trip over air, and I laugh way harder than I should at “That’s what she said” jokes.  But I’m perfectly me, and I encourage my kids to be their own best selves too.  It’s not a zero sum game, where I have to be “mean mom” in order for my kids to be raised right (or whatever version of “right” that society deems appropriate).  I do my best to be kind, and respectful, and a person with integrity.  And guess what?  My kids are kind, and respectful, and people with integrity.  Who cares about cool?

3.  Because nagging works. 

Lots of things “work”, especially in the short term.  But that doesn’t mean that anything that works is the best choice, or the kindest choice.  Being a mom should be about the relationship.  Nagging doesn’t tend to be a great thing for relationships, and rightly so.  No one likes to be nagged.  Bottom line:  if I wouldn’t like it said – or done – to me, I don’t want to say or do it to my kids.

4.  I married a cool dad.

I think this is meant to be a take on the antiquated good cop/bad cop paradigm, where one parent needs to be the soft one, and the other the “heavy.”  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  My kids have a cool mom and a cool dad (or, at least, uncool in equal measure).  We are different, to be sure, because we are vastly different people.  But good and bad?  Nice and mean?  Nope.  We’re partners; both on the same team.

5.  It just plain works.

Didn’t we already do this one?  Sure, it works.  Know what else works?  Being nice.

6.  It takes a village, except when the villagers are all too nice.

The author feels that a trip to the playground should carry with it a mandatory contract that reads, “If you see another kid being an asshole, don’t hesitate. Say something.”  Gah.  Again with the calling kids assholes.  So here’s the thing:  There seems to be a false dichotomy that states that there are exactly two ways for parenting (and by extension, society) to operate.  1) Parents are “mean”, children behave, and there is order and harmony in all the land.  Or 2) Parents are too nice (ie: pushovers) children run wild, and chaos and bedlam reign supreme.  But there are other options.  Yup, sometimes it really does take a village.  And yup, sometimes a trip to the playground does require intervention involving another child and/or another parent.  I have been there.  But I’ve never met a situation that couldn’t be at least a little more quickly diffused, a little more softened, a little more pleasant for all involved… by being nice.  I don’t care who you are, young or old.  God knows we could use a little more “nice.”

7.  Kids will suck the nice right out of you.  Let them. 

We’re not born with a finite amount of “nice.”  If we are treating our kids kindly from a genuine place of love and respect (and not, for example, from a misplaced sense of martyrdom or insecurity), we literally never run out of niceness.  No one can suck it out of us.  No one can take it away.  In fact, it’s one of those emotional muscles that actually increases the more we use it.  I’ve been a parent for over 20 years, and I still manage to be nice to my kids.  I think I’ll even be able to be nice to them tomorrow.  Crazy! (But true.)  Even crazier?  My kids are nice to me, too!

8.  I refuse to raise little manipulators.

Oof.  Listen, it’s not that I think kids are perfect (they’re human), and it’s not that I don’t think kids – past a certain age – can’t manipulate (again, they’re human).  It’s just that 1) being nice to your kids doesn’t turn them into manipulators; 2) being mean doesn’t preclude it – in fact I think it increases the odds exponentially; 3) children, like all of us, tend to behave as well as they are treated; and 4) calling kids manipulators (and brats and assholes etcera) is tired and uncool and contributing to the problem.  Not solving it.  Look at it this way:  if someone was assuming the worst about you and calling you a name, would you be more or less likely to act pleasantly toward that person in the future?

9.  Still want to be cool?  Just wait until you’re the grandmother.

Nope, it’s not about being cool.  Not even a little bit.  It’s not about being liked.  It’s not even about being nice.  It’s about something far simpler.  It’s about treating my kids the way I’d like to be treated.  At the end of the day, I wouldn’t like it very much if an important person in my life measured their relational success against how mean they were to me.

In fact, I’d actually appreciate the opposite.

Save


signature

8 Comments

Filed under gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting, rant, respect

Saying “Yes”, And Why I’ll Always Be Their Friend

One of my patrons on Patreon recently pointed me to this video that touts itself as the only parenting advice you’ll ever need.  I watched the video, and I disagreed.  🙂  The following video is my response.


signature

3 Comments

Filed under gentle parenting, parenting

Living In The Moment

One of the things I love doing on my Facebook page is asking a basic question of the group, one that I know will elicit a lot of responses, and hopefully starting a (often important, and needed) conversation.  Even before I read through all the responses – and please know that I do, very carefully, read through all of the responses – your enthusiasm in joining the conversation tells me two things:  1) That we all want to be heard… that we all have questions, and struggles, and things to share, and that platforms like blogs and Facebook groups still serve a real purpose, and 2) That we’re all in this together.  I think that one of the most helpful things to know (not just with parenting, but with life) is that we are not alone.  That someone, somewhere, is out there who gets it.  Who understands how we feel.  Who knows what it’s like to be facing what we face.  It’s a powerful thing, and one I don’t take for granted.

Most recently, I asked,

What is one thing that you struggle with as a parent? Something that you know you want to do differently (such as less yelling, more patience, etc) but that you are having trouble implementing?

I got an overwhelming response, both in numbers and in sheer honesty and vulnerability.  So thank you.  I very quickly realized that what was meant to be a one-off blog post really needed to become a regular series.  Because I don’t care how good of a mom you are:  We all struggle with something. 

The thing that stood out to me the most in my first read-through of the comments was the one that’s been my own personal struggle since… well, forever:  Being present.  Being in the moment.  It’s something that I’ve thought about, and learned about, and written about, many many times in the 20 years that I’ve been a parent.  Tegan (who’s 9 at the time of this writing, and is teaching me a whole new set of parenting truths after her three brothers) has been instrumental in showing me of the importance of living in the moment.

But still, I have to remind myself.  Still, I have to practice.

And I’m not alone.

Just a few of my fellow like-minded parents:

Stopping, breathing, and taking in the moment.  Appreciating their age, abilities and achievements without being frustrated by lesser things.  ~ Bea L

Really struggling with patience these days.  ~ Jess F

Being more present with my kids and not giving in to frustration. ~ Rebecca P

Slowing down and enjoying the moments. I always seem to be going and trying to clean, get dishes or laundry done and I tend to e short with my kids and not fully engage in play or conversation. ~ Stefanie S

Being impatient and not being able to just be present with them.  Working on it.  Getting better, but it is hard.  ~ Karen E

I have spent the entire last year working on my mental health, and a huge, huge part of that work was learning to live in the moment.  Our brains (or at least my brain) always want to be solving problems, and thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or the thing that’s coming up next week, or the thing that happened 6 months ago.  When you’re not truly living in the moment, you’re either living in the past, or in the future.  And in the past and in the future, there’s always a problem to solve.  It’s exhausting.

So all the typical “live in the moment” advice – Breathe;  Count to ten.;  Look around and ground yourself by appreciating the sights and sounds and smells;  Don’t sweat the small stuff –  While it’s all well and good, it wasn’t until I learned the problem-solving piece that I felt like I really understood what I needed to do, and what I needed to remember.

In the moment, in this moment, there is no problem to solve.

And it sounds simplistic, and easy to argue:  Of course there are problems.  We don’t have enough money.  The car’s in the shop.  The kids are always fighting.  The 2 year old’s sick.  The 4 year old’s having a tantrum.  I have to make dinner and make lunches for tomorrow and get my son to football and my daughter to karate and there’s the thing at church and it’s all just SO MUCH. 

Yes.  Sure.   I get it.  I get it.

But right now, right now as you read these words, there are no problems to solve.  It’s okay to give yourself (and your brain!  Your poor, overworked brain) a break.  It’s okay to breathe and NOT WORRY about how you handled that last problem, or how you’re going to handle the next one.  It’s okay to truly and deeply and fully live right now, and give yourself permission to rest…. to rest in the moment, to rest in the presence of your child, to rest in the presence of yourself.

Right now, in the moment, there is no problem to solve.

That one piece of truth, heard in the right place and the right time, was probably one of the single best bits of wisdom I’ve ever received… not just for life in general, but for my parenting as well.  And I still have to remind myself – often – but I’m getting better.

Right now, there is no problem to solve.

And my shoulders relax, and I’m able to exhale, and my weary soul feels a welcome sense of relief.  I don’t have to figure it all out right now.  And then, in that moment, I can be the mom I know I can be.  The mom I know I should be.  And when I miss the mark (and I do sometimes miss the mark, because I’m human)? Then I have the next moment.  And then the one after that.

One day, one moment, at a time.

And it sounds kinda hokey, and a little woo-woo (and I hate woo-woo) … but it helps.  So much.

You have permission to rest.

Hug your kid, smell the flowers, jump in the mud puddle.  Right now, there is no problem to solve.


signature

3 Comments

Filed under mental health, mindful parenting, not sweating the small stuff, parenting, perspective, self care

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.

Save


signature

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

Filed under childism, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting

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.)


signature

5 Comments

Filed under gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting, respect

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.

EverettSave

Save

Save

Save


signature

2 Comments

Filed under parenting, teens

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.

Save


signature

2 Comments

Filed under parenting, Uncategorized