Category Archives: respect

The Holidays Are For Giving, Not Manipulating

Let me paint a picture for you.

You’re 6 years old.  You just came off the excitement of Halloween.  Thanksgiving is coming, followed by Christmas just a few short weeks later.  You’re going to holiday parties and special events, your schedule is all out of whack, and you’ve been eating all kinds of rich, sweet, and complicated foods.  You’re spending time helping to decorate, and make gifts, and make cookies and other treats.  You’re probably not sleeping very well because you’re excited and everything’s thrown off, and your six-year-old self is buzzing with restless energy, anticipation, and – if we’re being honest – likely some exhaustion and over-stimulation too.

And then, right at the breaking point, right at that moment when what’s needed most is some collective down-time, some deliberate slowing and reconnecting and a heap-load of grace….. your (probably well-meaning) parents tell you that a magic old man is watching your every move, that if you make any missteps he’s going to know about it, and that if you’re not good enough, you’re not going to get any presents at Christmas.  And then, lest you don’t believe it, they install cameras, just to be sure you’re properly submissive.  Or afraid.  Or both.

Surely I can’t be the only one who realizes how completely manipulative, not to mention illogical, this is?

In Christmases-past, I’ve written about my issues with the Elf on a Shelf, but I’m new to the whole concept of Santa Cams.  When I first heard about them, it was in the context of ornaments for the tree.   Cutesy little balls painted like cameras, sold by about a million different vendors on Etsy.   The premise is as simple as it is creepy; Santa watches you through the camera, and if you misbehave (a word I can’t stand, but am using for the sake of illustration), you won’t get any presents.  As if those weren’t bad enough, someone recently brought my attention to the more insidious – and much, much creepier – version: cameras that are meant to mount on the child’s bedroom wall or ceiling.

You guys, I cannot overstate how disturbed I am by these Santa Cams.

Because there are just so very many things wrong with them, and because I think better in lists, here are my top five reasons to – at a bare minimum – carefully consider whether or not you want to instill (and install) something like this in your own home.

1. It teaches that giving is conditional

Let’s just start there.  No one should ever have to “earn” their gifts, Christmas or otherwise.  By definition, a gift is something that is given freely, without condition, and without expectation.  Something that – ideally – comes from the heart and the generosity of the giver.   Teaching your kids that they need to behave a certain way in order to get Christmas gifts not only destroys and mocks the whole premise of giving, it ensures that their future relationship with giving will be a warped and unhealthy one.  I want my kids to give because they want to give, not because someone jumped through some requisite hoops in order to be deemed worthy.

2. It encourages behavior that is driven by extrinsic (rather than intrinsic) motivation

So let’s get this question out of the way.  Do Santa Cams “work”, in terms of getting children to behave in a certain way?  Quite possibly, depending on the kid.  But just to be clear on what’s really happening:  They’re being driven by something external. They’re performing strictly because of the promise of reward and/or the fear of punishment.  That’s it.  It doesn’t actually teach them anything, except that gifts are conditional, that it’s okay to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do, and that the only reason to behave reasonably is because a jolly fat man might take away your stocking if you don’t.  Take away the promise of presents, and what motivation do they have then?  People, of any age, should act according to their own inner sense of right and wrong, their own innate wisdom that informs them how they want to behave, and how they want to treat others.  Children by nature are incredibly giving, and loving, and kind.  They are, by nature, good …. until and unless that natural inclination is squashed and skewed by things like punishments and rewards.

3. It’s manipulative.

As parents, we know that there is no literal Santa Claus that lives at the North Pole.  We know that if our kids are going to get presents, we’ll be the ones providing them.  We know that the Santa “camera” is nothing more than cheap plastic (and, if we’ve splurged on the fancy one, a set of AA batteries for an LED blinking light).  We know that our children are already overtired, under-rested, and all hopped up on sugar and adrenaline.  The kids know none of that.  They just know that they’re excited.  They know they want fun new presents on Christmas morning.  They actually believe that Santa is watching them, because that’s what their parents told them.  Parents take advantage of that trust and that naivete because they know that by controlling them through the threat of punishment and the promise of reward that it will make their lives just a tiny bit easier.   It is the very definition of manipulation, and manipulation isn’t nice.  Which brings me to:

4. It is damaging to your relationship

Nothing good ever comes from taking advantage of and manipulating someone in a relationship.  Ever.  In fact, people spend entire lifetimes trying to recover from being manipulated by parents, partners, siblings, friends, churches ….

Relationships, including, or especially!, between parent and child are precious, and need to be treated with care.  Once trust is broken, it’s a tricky tricky thing to repair.  That is not to say that wounds can’t be healed, or that wrongs can’t be righted.  Sometimes they can, and sometimes the damage is just too deep.  But given the preemptive choice to do the unkind, manipulative thing, and to… well, NOT do it, the latter is always the better option. The age-old adage still holds true:  treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.

5. It raises some serious and confusing messages in the realm of privacy and consent.

I saved this one for last because it’s at once the most disturbing, and the one most likely to prompt people to say, “Oh come on, you’re taking this way too far.”  But I beg you to hear me out.  Hearing that this was something that people were actually hanging in their children’s bedroom raised major, major red flags for me.  In this current climate under a president who brags about “grabbing women by the p*ssy” I think it’s safe to say that there’s a really grossly blurred line when it comes to privacy and consent.   I think it’s also safe to say that it’s more important than ever to talk about these issues at home, whether you have boys or girls.  Kids need to know about privacy.  Kids need to know about consent.  So I ask you, in all sincerity, where does a peeping, spying old man fit into a healthy model of consent?  How do you ever reconcile sending your young kids the sickening and confusing message that it’s okay if someone watches you undress and sleep if they hold the power to give or withhold presents??  Yes, they’re not actually being watched.  But the kids don’t know that.  The kids believe they’re actually being watched.  They believe their parents know about it.  And they believe it’s okay because it’s a benevolent old guy with a magic sack of gifts.

It’s creepy.

It’s disgusting.

It’s dangerous.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, regardless of where you stand politically (I’m already wondering if I’m going to kick myself for including the Trump reference, not gonna lie), regardless of how you do or not celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus … I hope that we can agree that the holidays should be about love and kindness, giving and generosity.

Which should never, ever include manipulating the people we love the most.


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Filed under control, holidays, mindful parenting, respect

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.

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

tegantrampoline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


May God guide us all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You, my dear daughter, are amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dear Chick Fil A: I Love You, But…

Chick Fil A.

You’re sick to death of hearing about it.  I am too.  BELIEVE ME, I am too.  Two days ago, I vowed I would not weigh in.   Yesterday I realized I had no choice, if for no other reason than to preserve my own sanity and get it off my chest, if not off my news feed.

I am a huge proponent of respecting other people’s right to have their own opinions, and to voice those opinions as they see fit.  Let me just start there.  One of the things that has bothered me about this from the start (and there are so very many things that bother me about it) is that those of us who don’t agree with Dan Cathy’s stance are getting accused of not respecting his right to free speech.   Of course he has the right to speak.  Is anyone actually saying he doesn’t?  That’s an honest question…  I’ve read so many ugly words coming from both sides that at some point I started tuning them out.

Another one I’m seeing a lot of is a graphic that says:  “‘I disagree’ is not equal to ‘I hate you.'”  Absolutely.  Merely disagreeing, and harboring hatred are two entirely different things.

Here’s the problem…

I’m of the opinion (and remember, Dan Cathy gets to have an opinion.  I get to have an opinion.  We all get to have an opinion) I’m of the opinion that the Bible is not nearly as black and white on the issue of homosexuality as most of my fellow Christians would have you believe.  Setting that conversation completely aside, let’s say for the sake of argument that homosexuality is wrong.  There still remains the fact that the Bible is exceedingly clear on one thing.  We are called to LOVE. 

Of course, of course!  Love the sinner, hate the sin. 

No.  No, no, no.  Love the sinner (and we’re all sinners).  Period.   I believe that that “Love the sinner, hate the sin” admonishment is one of the most hurtful and damaging phrases ever to be uttered.  If we’re actively hating something about someone else, we believe they should change.   We’re making our love conditional, and half-hearted at best.   In essence we’re saying, “I love you, but…” Can any good come after that ‘but’?   To truly and completely love, we just have to LOVE.   With no strings, and no conditions.  Think homosexuality is a sin?  So is pride.  So is arrogance.  So is gossip.  So is judgement.

Love anyway.

Chick Fil A donates money – millions of dollars worth of money – to organizations whose whole reason for existence is to fight against, and ostracize, gay individuals… including groups that link homosexuality to pedophilia, groups that feel homosexuality should be outlawed, groups that think homosexuals should be exported from our country, and groups that believe homosexuality is something that can be “prayed away.”  One of these groups is the Family Research Council, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  I ask you, implore you, in all sincerity …. if you were homosexual, or your child or your best friend or your brother were homosexual, would any of the above groups (or the organizations such as Chick Fil A that support them) make you feel particularly loved?

I’ll be honest:  I’ve never eaten at Chick Fil A, mainly because I just don’t eat that kind of food.  And I’m certainly not going to start now, not because I simply disagree (I want to be really clear about that) but because just as it’s their right to financially support blatantly anti-gay organizations, it’s my right not to.  And yes, I’m aware that I’m likely supporting other such organizations without even knowing about it…. but when you know better, you do better.   I want my dollars to support groups that promote love, not more division.

I have seen so much righteous indignation, name-calling, and judgment from both sides of the issue.   I’ve seen well-meaning Christians proudly boasting about their support of a company that they may or may not realize gives money to a known hate group; and I’ve seen detractors casually throwing out words like bigots, and homophobes, and haters.

I’ve seen people telling Dan Cathy in no uncertain terms where to go and how to get there.  And that’s clearly not the answer here either.

These are real people … people with failings and shortcomings to be sure … but real people, who are so much more than a cause or a principle or a religious or political crusade.  And as I’ve thought about it, and pulled it apart, and boiled it down, I’ve realized that my responsibility here is no more and no less than to love.  Simply.  Fully.  Unconditionally.

And man, it’s simple in premise but not always easy in practice.  It’s hard to love people sometimes.  Sadly, often sometimes, my fellow Christians are the hardest of all.  But I honestly do want to love like Jesus loved.  I don’t ever want to fall back on “loving the sinner and hating the sin.”  I don’t want to put conditions on my love.  I don’t want to be a hypocrite.  So I will say to Dan Cathy and to others who support groups that aim to oppress, disparage, and ostracize others,  “I love you”.

And then I’ll just stop talking.


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Playing nicely with others

“I want to be clear and here are the values that I stand for. I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.”  ~ Ellen Degeneres

If you’re on my Facebook page (and if you’re not, consider this your personal invitation) you might have seen a conversation a few days ago about homosexuality.  I don’t generally post about things that can garner such controversy – make no mistake, unschooling and gentle parenting garner plenty of that all by themselves – but it’s been heavily on my heart since the firestorm that happened after the homecoming photo of the gay marine went viral, and then again after Kirk Cameron’s recent remarks to Piers Morgan.

For the first time, I thought very seriously of writing about it.  I think it’s a highly important issue, and one that has become increasingly relevant.  But in the Facebook conversation I mentioned above, it became evident to me rather quickly that such a post would not be received well.  A few people even told me I should “stick to writing about parenting.”

Well…

I’m not going to write about homosexuality.  But not because people think I shouldn’t, not because it’s too controversial, and not because I’m afraid of alienating readers.   As far as I’m concerned, none of the above are valid reasons not to write something.  It’s just that I realized at some point over the past couple of days that the issue isn’t really about homosexuality at all.  It’s about how we treat each other.  And that is actually very much a parenting issue, because our children learn how to treat others from us: their biggest role models.

There are things we are not going to agree on, to be sure.  But if you’re reading this blog, whoever you are and wherever you are in your life,  I sincerely hope we can agree on the following:  (Borrowed from the lovely Ellen Degeneres, because I happen to stand for the exact same values)

Honesty – I have seen people do some crazy and sometimes hurtful things in the name of honesty.  Almost as if “honesty” grants them the license to behave as badly as they’d like, regardless of whether or not it is helpful, necessary, or kind.  That’s not the kind of honesty I’m referring to.   The kind of honesty I live by is both more simple and more primal.  It’s the kind of honesty you can only give when you are first honest with yourself.  The kind of honesty that comes not from talking, but largely from listening…. listening to that still, quiet voice deep within yourself.  A voice which when it is honored, will never, ever, lie to you.

Equality –  (From dictionary.com) ” The state or quality of being equal;  correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability.”  Gay, straight, black, white, rich, poor… we’re all the same, not one of us better than the other.  To me, equality means that everyone should receive the same standard of treatment, regardless of his or her individual characteristics or circumstances.

Kindness – I’ve seen so much unkindness over the past couple of weeks.  So much unkindness!   And while I have to say in all fairness that it has come from many camps, one of the most vocal has been comprised of Christians.   Not only does disagreeing with someone’s lifestyle not give you the rein to be unkind about it, it is also directly counter to the core values of the person you profess to follow.  As a Christian myself, it gives me zero joy to say this, but…. I can thoroughly understand why so many people feel frustrated and/or angered or offended by Christians as a whole.  There is no better way to turn someone away – perhaps permanently – than by being judgmental and cruel, all under the name of Christianity.

Let’s be kind.  Let’s be gracious.  Let’s be compassionate:

Compassion – Compassion takes kindness one step further.  Compassion means deeply feeling for another person, and taking on their trials or misfortune as if they were your own.   To be compassionate means you want to help… whether that be simply through words or comfort or meeting some physical need.    I write most often about meeting children’s needs,  largely because I continue to see such widespread inequality in their treatment.  But I also have compassion for any group of people that is continually shamed, persecuted, and treated unfairly.

Treating people the way you want to be treated – The Golden Rule.   I’d like to think that when asked, most parents would answer that “Yes, of course we tell our children to treat people the way they’d want to be treated!”  But do we live it?  Do we show them how to do it?  Do we model it for them?  If we don’t, all the words in the world won’t make a difference.  Treat people the way you want to be treated.  ALL people.  Simultaneously the simplest and most difficult value of all.

Helping those in need – There’s a Friends episode where they squabble over whether or not there’s such a thing as an unselfish good deed.   The argument was that doing good things for others makes us feel good, thus making it just as selfish as it is altruistic.  It was of course played for laughs, but it did illuminate a very interesting truth:  Helping others DOES feel good!  And I can’t help but think that the reason it feels good is that it’s what we were meant to do.  We were meant to help others.  We were meant to work together.  We were meant to give of ourselves.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy fighting and unrest.  It makes me anxious, it makes me sad, and it gives me a stomach ache.  I want to focus my energy – all my energy – on the six items above.  Call me naive, but I truly believe that if more of us did just that, that everything else would fall into place.

 


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The woman at the park

 

 

There was an incident at the park the other day.  I witnessed, and ultimately tried to stop, a sad display of hatred towards children.

I have written about unkindness I’ve seen in public before.  Two I can think of right off the bat were Natalie’s mother, and the old man at the grocery store.  In those two cases though, I was a silent observer.  Just another person in the crowd, watching what was unfolding, and not doing anything to stop it.  This time I was a participant.  Right there in the front lines as it were.  I voluntarily inserted myself into the situation, boldly hoping for…. well, I don’t know what I was hoping for.   I just knew I had to do it.

But I should start at the beginning.

It was a Friday, and most Fridays we’re at park day.  I say “most” Fridays because I often try to get out of it.  Not because I don’t have a good time (I do), and not because the other mothers aren’t wonderful (they are).  Just because I’m a homebody and an introvert, and the thought of socializing for hours with dozens of other people makes me… tired.  But this Friday, we were there.

The boys were all off with their friends clear across the park, playing football or frisbee, or whatever it is that they do.  Tegan (almost 4) had just run across the playground with our friend Hannah (11), settling in to play in one of her favorite spots:  the shady spot in the sand under the little kids’ playground.

 

They hadn’t been playing for long before Hannah came running back over to us, telling us that “an old lady had yelled at them,” and had told her and some other older kids that they had to leave the area because it was for younger kids only.  We looked over and saw the lady in question, a couple of preteens simply hanging out and chatting, a toddler happily undisturbed in his play, and Tegan, still quietly sitting in the sand.

We told her she was fine, and that there were no hard and fast rules about who could play where.  Besides, she was there with Tegan, clearly a “younger kid”, and was in essence acting as her caregiver.

A few minutes later, she came back to tell us that the lady had called them “stupid.”  Now, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions.  Not because I didn’t trust Hannah’s word, but because I know that sometimes when you’re already feeling downtrodden that it’s easy to misinterpret.  Maybe the woman had used the word “stupid” but hadn’t actually directed at anyone in particular.

So I waited, and I watched.  Eventually the woman left the area to sit on a bench, and as more and more kids – of all ages – gathered to play on and around the equipment, she eyed them.  Oh how she eyed them!  Tegan wanted me to dig with her in the sand, in the middle of the playground, so I had a front row seat when the woman went from eying to acting.  She strode over to where the kids were playing, and just as Hannah had reported, ordered them to leave.  I couldn’t hear the entire conversation, but I could clearly hear her as she shouted, “You stupid kids!”

I got up and approached her.

(Let me stop here for a minute.   If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that I DO NOT LIKE confrontations.  Do not.  Even over the internet, I have to be pretty provoked, it gives me a stomach ache, and I stress about it for days.  So you can imagine my enthusiasm for the real-life variety)

But there I was, striding across the sand, feeling all Erin Brockovich.

“Excuse me,”  I said to her, interrupting her as she demanded that one of the little boys take her to his mother.  “I was just wondering why you’re calling these children stupid?”

“They are stupid!  They’re disrespectful little brats who are blatantly disregarding the law, and this legal notice for them to stay away from this equipment.”  She waved her arm at the sign in front of the playground.  “This is for little kids only.”

“M’aam, I really don’t think that sign is a law.  Those are just suggested ages.”

“THAT’S NOT WHAT IT SAYS!”

 

I wanted to get the full story, I really did.    If they were truly doing something wrong, I wanted to know about it.  From what I could see, they’d simply been playing, until she harrassed them.  So I calmly asked, “Were they disrupting any little kids at all?  Getting in their way, hurting anyone?”

“No, but they’re hurting the equipment!!  It’s not designed for bigger kids.”

 

And she wasn’t done.  “And when I told them they needed to leave, these stupid kids did not respect me as an authority figure.   They have no respect for authority.”

“Well, to be honest with you, I would have a hard time respecting someone who was resorting to calling me stupid too.”

“I don’t have to show respect for children!!  We don’t have to respect children.   But they are supposed to show respect to adults no matter what!”

(Oh no she DID NOT just say that.  But sadly, she did.)

“Kids have just as much right to be treated with respect as – ”  she cut me off then, and started shaking her head.

“Go ahead, defend them, and they’ll grow up never respecting authority, never having any respect for anyone, thinking they can do whatever they want…..  Stupid disrespectful kids…”

“Well, maybe if you tried talking to them without name calling…”

She’d pretty much turned her back on me by then, shaking her head and scoffing, “Say what you want.   They’re disrespectful kids.  Black is black.”

Now –  in the interest of fairness – I have to say that somewhere in the middle of all of this, one child (out of the group of at least a dozen that had gathered around us)  had started arguing back with her, telling her to “shut up”, and at one point returning one of her “you’re stupid kids” with a “well, you’re old!”  Was that the right way to handle the situation?  Of course it wasn’t.  I’m not arguing that.  But was he provoked?  Absolutely.  And at what I’m guessing to be about 10, he lacks the maturity that one would hope the 60-something year old lady he was arguing with should have possessed.   And honestly, with her attitude and flat-out assertion that she doesn’t need to show respect for kids, I don’t blame him for his feelings.

I wish I could say that there was a tidy ending to my story, but there was not.  It just…. fizzled.  It ended with her turning away from me in a huff, realizing that I wasn’t going to stop defending the kids;  and me realizing that she was not going to stop calling them “stupid” long enough to listen to anything I had to say.  I ultimately told the kids to just let it go,  and that they’d maybe be better off playing elsewhere.  Ironically, park day was close to ending by then anyway, and moms were starting to gather up their kids to go home.

I walked away, my heart pounding in my chest, already thinking about what it was I’d actually accomplished.  In many ways, I hadn’t accomplished much of anything.  The woman clearly did not like children, and I’d done little to change her mind.

I wish she would’ve heard me. I wish I could have told her that when you realize that children are people, when you treat them with respect, when you treat them the way you wish to be treated, that they (just like their adult counterparts) will respond in kind.  How much differently it all would have turned out if she’d just talked to them instead of calling them names!

But what I had done – besides gaining the confidence that comes from doing something I would have been too afraid to do even a couple of years ago – was stand up for the kids.  Not by thinking about it, not by sitting behind my computer and writing about it, but by literally standing up, walking over there, looking that woman in the eye, and saying, “Hey, kids deserve respect too.”

I stood up for the kids, and I would do it again.


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Filed under gentle parenting, hypocrisy, kids, life, mindful parenting, respect