8 Awesome Things About Tegan

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Today this little princess turns eight.

I think in every family, whether you have one kid or twelve, everyone brings their own unique “je ne sais quoi” to the mix.   I’ve said it a hundred times (and will no doubt say it a hundred more), but what Tegan did was complete us.  She filled the Tegan-sized hole that we didn’t even know existed until we realized someone was missing.  Life with the three boys was so wonderful.  So fun.  So colorful.  But Tegan…. she brought the TECHNI-color.  She brought the glitter.  She brought the fireworks.  She brought the puffy hearts and rainbows.  And I thank God for every day she’s been a part of our lives.

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Here are just eight awesome things I love about her:

1. She’s confident.  She is so confidently, and unabashedly Tegan.  From the clothes she wears, to the things she does with her hair, to the selfies she takes, to the new adventures she tries every day… she jumps in with both feet, looks the world in the eye, and says, “Here I come.”   When people tell her her new haircut makes her look like a boy – which just happened again yesterday – she shrugs and tells them she loves it short.

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2. She never met a stranger.  By far the most extroverted of the four kids, Tegan makes friends with everyone she meets.  Not just superficial friends either, but best friends.  Older kids, younger kids, teens, adults; it doesn’t matter to her.  She spent a day at work with Mike last month, and when she got home, she was so excited to tell me about Viktoriya, his beautiful coworker with the fancy clothes and fun office, who gave her candy and became her new best friend and was “the sweetest person she ever met.”  She meets you, she finds the best and most lovable and most beautiful things about you.  Every time.

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3. She faces her fears. I originally wrote this as, “She’s fearless”, but then I realized that that wasn’t really the case.  Of course she has fears.  We all have fears.  What’s awesome about Tegan is that I’ve yet to see her fears or nervousness or uncertainty hold her back from anything she’s wanted to do.  She danced in front of 20,000 people, twice (and LOVED it);  she rode the loop coaster that terrified her (and LOVED it);  she’s started acting in plays (and LOVES it).   She’s brave and bold and doesn’t let anything stop her.

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4. She’s compassionate. She often makes me get well cards when I’m not feeling well (yesterday’s was complete with a drawing of her bringing me a cup of tea :)) She’s always thinking of her friends.  She wants the people around her to be happy.  She has such a huge heart for the people, and the animals – including the stuffed variety – that she loves,  and deeply cares about others’ feelings, comfort, and happiness.

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5. She’s affectionate.  She gives rogue hugs, she’s free with her kisses, and when she comes in bed with us, it’s always with an arm (or a leg, or a whole body) thrown with abandon over my back.

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6. She asks big questions. Oh boy, this girl.  She ponders the big things in life.  A car ride with Tegan often means conversations about heaven, life and death, prejudice, what makes a good friend, love, heartache, and everything in between.  She’s also the first of the four kids who insisted she not get a sugar-coated answer to where babies come from.

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7.  She loves performing. Singing, dancing, acting, improv, story telling.  Give her a stage (or a living room, or a closet, or a soapbox, or….) and she’s on it.  When she was younger, she was riding in the cart at Target, and suddenly started smiling, and waving, and blowing kisses all around us as I pushed her down the aisle.  I asked her what she was doing and she looked at me like I’d asked a really silly question and said, “I’m in a parade.  I’m waving to all my fans.”  This is a girl who does not mind if she’s the center of attention. When I was kid, I once hid under the table at my roller rink birthday party because I was so embarrassed that my party guests were singing to me.  Tegan would love it if the whole room was singing to her.

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8.  She’s a nut.  In a nutshell (see what I did there?), she is a goofy, crazy, ball of energy and one-liners, who loves to laugh and to make the people around her laugh as well.

She’s also a loyal friend, a doting daughter, and I couldn’t possibly love her more.

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Happy, happy birthday Tegan!  Thank you for choosing me to be your mom. I love you a million, billion, zillion.

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19 Awesome Things About Spencer

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Every year on my kids’ birthdays, I like to do a whole post just honoring them, and the awesomely weird and quirky and beautiful and wonderfully unique beings that they are. Last year, I made videos. In past years, I’ve written letters.

I’ve done lists like this before – one point for each year they’ve been earth-side – but I liked it so much I’m bringing it back.

Today our oldest, the one who made us parents, the one who overnight transformed our relationship from a couple to a family, turns nineteen. NINETEEN! While my mind reels at the fact that that can even by possible, my heart rejoices. My heart remembers… every story, every wound. Every joy, every heartache. All nineteen years – from hairy 5 1/2 pound newborn to (still hairy) young man – have woven together, their tapestry making up the very foundation of who I am as a mom, and by extension as a woman.

Like most moms, on most days of the year, the list of things I individually love about my kids is infinite. Today, on Spencer’s birthday, here are just nineteen:

1. He’s kind.  How could I not start the list here?  He has a huge, huge heart.

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2.  He’s loyal.  I aspire to be the kind of friend that Spencer is to everyone he meets.  Once you’re friends with Spencer, you not only have a friend who’d give you the shirt off his back… you have a friend for life.

3.  He’s enthusiastic about learning. It doesn’t matter if the subject at hand is politics or playing the drums or the engines he loves to diagnose and fix… he loves learning, and he does it eagerly.

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4.  He’s enthusiastic about LIFE.  An often uttered Spencer phrase is, “I’m so excited.”  It could be about any number of things, but it’s always genuine.  He’s a lover of life, and doesn’t shy away from showing it.

5. He feels things deeply. We joke in this house that Mike has no feelings, and I have ALL the feelings. The four kids all fall somewhere in between, with Spencer landing solidly in my camp.  Whether happy or sad, worried or excited, he wears his heart on sleeve, and I love that about him.

6.  He’s goofy.  He’s got the same corny, cheesy, goof-ball sense of humor he’s had since he was a kid.

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7.  He’s not afraid to love.  And I don’t just mean when he’s in a relationship kind of way.  I mean just overall, as a general rule, he puts his whole heart out there.   As someone who spent a good portion of her life putting up walls so I wouldn’t get hurt, I find his willingness awesome and admirable.

8.  He’s a good sport.  Living in our household means putting up with a whole lot of joking, craziness, and a mom who bursts into song multiple times a day.  He handles it all with aplomb.  It’s fair to say we sometimes drive each other crazy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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9.  He works hard.  Whether it’s his online courses, yard work, or helping us run the conference, he works hard, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

10.  He knows what he likes.  Not one to be influenced by fads or brands or what the masses say is “cool”, he has his own unique tastes and wonderfully quirky preferences, from the music he listens to, to the clothes he wears, to the things he watches on TV.  He couldn’t care less what anyone else thought about it.

11.  He’s interesting.  Here’s the thing about living with Spencer:  When he walks into the room, you don’t know what you’re going to get.  A fascinating tidbit he just read online?  An excited monologue about a new game that’s coming out?  A passionate rant about people who use “u r” instead of “You are”?  It’s always new, it’s often crazy, and it’s one of the most endearing things about him.  He’s like a walking party.

12.  He’s strong.  He’s had oral surgery, eye surgery, shoulder surgery (along with many many many dislocations) and he handles it all like a rock star, and he keeps on going.

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13.  He has a big personality.  Small in stature, and a hundred pounds soaking wet, his personality is just the opposite… unabashedly big and bold. When Spencer’s nearby, you know Spencer’s nearby.  He talks loudly, laughs freely, and generally buzzes with energy.

14.  He’s random.  He takes a lot of good-natured ribbing for this, but I don’t know anyone who can take a dinner conversation from music to snow mobiles to the UK (to everything in between) with as much skill as Spencer.   No need for segues.  If it crosses his mind, it comes out of his mouth.  :)

15.  He’s smart.  Ah, the humbling mom moment when you first realize your kids are smarter than you.  I think it’s so cool to see my kids surpass my knowledge in all sorts of different areas… for Spencer it’s everything from computers to problem solving to how things work.   And his MEMORY!  I’ve been in awe of his memory since he was very little.

16. He’s all in.  Just in case you haven’t gotten it by now, he is someone who is living life at 100%.  All the time.

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17.  He appreciates good food.  It is fun to have a kid to drink coffee with in the morning!  Beyond that, he has always, even from the time he was very little, has loved trying new and exotic foods, with a strong preference for seafood.  If there’s shrimp or crab legs or lobster anything on the menu… that’s where’s his eyes are going.

18.  He’s full of happy energy.  I’ve gotten so used to it that I tend not to notice it anymore until someone points out, but he is almost always in motion. Even when he’s standing still, he’s not still.  His legs are wiggling, he’s bouncing in place, his hands are going as he talks.    Almost like nervous energy, but it’s not. It’s HAPPY energy.  It just buzzes off him, and I wish it could be bottled and shared.

19.  He’s HIMSELF.  Is there anything better than this?  He’s awesome because he’s Spencer.

And I love him.  So, so much.  I’m so very thankful that I get to be his mom.


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Deschooling, And Being Okay With “Screen Time”

Photo credit: espensorvik

Photo credit: espensorvik

From an emailed question:

I am very new to unschooling- yesterday was my first day, and all the kids did is play our Wii. I have been homeschooling them their entire lives following a Charlotte MAson approach, and I found them fighting learning. But after living my whole life believing that too much screen time will rot your brain, this is a hard thing to accept. Could you help reassure me (and my husband) that things will be ok?

First, good for you for recognizing that something wasn’t working, and seeking out alternatives! That is a huge step that many don’t take, due to fear or uncertainty.

Second, I cannot stress enough how normal it is for a child (or for anyone) to temporarily binge on something that’s been previously limited.  If the Wii was something that they were only able to play at certain times or on certain days, it would be much more strange if they didn’t rush to play it as much as they could once that restriction was lifted!  Wiis are fun.  One thing that I see happen a lot is that parents will begin unschooling, panic about their kids’ electronic use, and then reinstate old rules and restrictions.  Then, when they try again, and their kids again spend huge amounts of time on said electronics, the parents throw up their hands and say, “See? This doesn’t work for us!  This happens every time!”  Well yes, of course it happens every time. When you limit or take away something – anything, whether it’s book or a skateboard or a video game – it becomes more desirable.  If a child has to worry about the next time that you’re going to take it away, of course they’re going to use it as much as they possibly can in the meantime. It’s human nature.

What’s happening right now – for you and your children both – is “deschooling.”  Stated simply, deschooling just means the period of adjustment needed to rid yourself of schoolish thoughts, of the misconception that learning is something that only happens at certain times in certain ways, of the belief that some things (ie:  books) hold more educational value than other things (ie: video games).  It’s a time to break out of old patterns, and to learn to trust yourself, trust your kids, and trust the process.   It’s a time to relax, and play, and read, and practice just being with your kids.  It’s a chance for your kids to learn that they can play the Wii if they want… or play outside or watch TV or read or draw or build something or bake… and that it’s all equally available.  The longer you and your children were involved in school, or traditional school-at-home, the longer the deschooling process will take.  Sandra Dodd has a large collection of deschooling links that will help.

As for the screen time:  “Screen time”, as overwhelmingly often as it is used, is a really odd and unhelpful term when you think about it.  It takes dozens… hundreds, an infinite amount… of different activities, and deduces them into one, often maligned and misunderstood, thing. Sure, screen time can mean video games.  It can mean entertainment.  It can mean work. It can mean play. It can mean communication. It can mean writing, creating, reading, researching.  None is better or worse than the other, and all have their own intrinsic value.  I’ve been out of bed for about two hours.  I watched a TV show on Netflix while I answered some emails.  I texted a friend.  I did some editing on my website.  I uploaded a picture.  I checked something on my bank account.  I read a chapter of a book on my Kindle.  I did a little writing (I’m still doing a little writing :)) I researched something I was talking about with one of my boys.  All “screen time.” My husband, who works as a budget and payroll director, is on his computer pretty much the entire time he’s at work.  9+ hours of screen time a day.

When it comes specifically to the Wii, or to video games in general, a lot of people would advise that you let them play as much as they want, and that they’ll eventually self-regulate.  There was a time I would have said the same thing.  But while I certainly agree with the first part (Yes! Absolutely, let them play as much as they want, especially right now while they’re deschooling) I’ve come to realize that when parents say, “self-regulate”, what they really mean is that they’re waiting for their children to play at a level that they, as the parents, are comfortable with. But it doesn’t work that way.  Or at least it shouldn’t.  Everybody is different, and every season is different, even for the same person.  Kids have different interests, different passions, different ways of learning, different ways of interacting with the world around them. Different from you, and different from each other.  They may go through seasons where they play a LOT of Wii, or watch a lot of TV, or read a lot of books, or play a lot of sports.   If unschooling, and unschooling well, is the ultimate goal, then the parent’s job is to support the children in all their pursuits… to help them, to encourage them, to ride the ebbs and flows of their interests with them… whether they’re interested in chemistry or makeup or history or art or beating the next level of their favorite video game.  When you stop looking at life through a schoolish lens, you see that there is no separation between “educational” and “non-educational” pursuits.  No distinguishing between learning and living.  It’s all life.  It’s all intertwined.  It’s all learning.

And finally, a little bit of testimony about what “screen time” looks like in an unschooling house, in a house that treats it the same as any other activity, with no more or no less value:

At the time of this writing, my kids are (soon to be) 8, 11, 15, and (soon to be) 19.   My 8 year old, and only girl, is the most extroverted of my kids by far, so the internet – and Skype in particular – has been a wonderfully helpful way for her to keep up with friends and family in between visits.  She recently got her own email account (www.tocomail.com – a great starter email for kids!) and she likes to email as well.  She has her own Kindle, and she loves taking pictures of herself and her family and her pets, and making little videos.  She goes in phases with video games.  Right now, she’s really enjoying an online game called Star Stable, that she plays with her cousin, and at various times with myself, my parents, and her aunt and uncle. Super fun.  She can take or leave movies most of the time, but she does like TV.  Some past favorites have been Good Luck Charlie, iCarly, and My Little Pony.  She’s also super physically active.  She loves dancing, jumping on the trampoline, and playing with the pets.  She just recently started rehearsing for a local homeschool theater company’s spring production.

My 11 year old loves cooperative games online, and he also enjoys keeping up with his long distance friends through messengers.  He likes YouTube, and has some favorites he watches regular.  He watches some TV and movies on Netflix, but the amount ebbs and flows.  He plays the bass guitar almost every day.  He also loves sports, spent several years doing karate, and is enjoying his second season of flag football.  He’s a huge animal lover, and talks about maybe being a vet one day.

My 15 year old researched and saved up for a year to build his own dream gaming computer. He spends a lot of his time playing computer games (mostly bought through Steam), and Skyping with his friends.  He watches TV the same way I do:  when he finds a show he likes, he binge-watches in little marathon sessions until he’s watched the whole series.  He’s recently taken an interest in movies as well, and is currently working his way through a list of “must-sees”. He’s also a musician, and spends several hours every day practicing his guitar, writing music, and conferring with his band mates.  His band, The Cringes, recently had its first paying gig, has begun recording, and plans to have music available for purchase by the end of the year.

And finally my 19 year old.  He has one of the most impressive gaming computer setups I’ve ever seen.

He bought all of this with his own money.

He bought all of this with his own money.

He loves the truck simulator games.   He also runs a Minecraft server, is active on Facebook, and regularly chats with friends on Skype.  He’s not much of a movie guy, but he loves watching TV shows on Netflix, particularly medical shows and real life crime series.  He’s taken some courses online, most recently a small engine repair certification course. He has always loved engines – and fixing anything and everything – and working outdoors. He’s thought about a career in both.  In his spare time, he’s teaching himself how to play the drums.  Right now, he’s applying to jobs (everywhere from grocery stores to movie theaters) while he decides what he wants to do next.

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What I ultimately want for my children – and for myself, too – is that when it comes to technology, they’re able to enjoy it for everything it has to offer; to use it confidently without guilt or shame in whatever way or amount makes sense for them at that time in their lives; and that they recognize it for what it is:  just another tool for learning, for communication, for entertainment, in a vast arsenal of possibilities.

And truly letting go and trusting unschooling – trusting that YES, it is okay when they play Wii all day, or all week, or for a month until they solve that game – has allowed them to do exactly that.

 

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New Years and Fresh Starts

Snow is so romantic when you haven't seen it for awhile!

Snow is so romantic when you haven’t seen it for awhile!

2015 wasn’t my most favorite year.

There were some big stressors. There was physical pain. There were chronic medical issues. There were dozens of appointments and tests and procedures that accompanied said medical issues. There was depression, its good friend anxiety, and their frequent cohort insomnia.

And of course – absolutely – 2015 had its lovely moments too. It did. But overall, it kind of… well, it bit.

So it was with huge amounts of relief and gratefulness that I welcomed in the new year.

And I realize that it’s kind of silly: The number on the calendar doesn’t change anything. Every day is a new start, if you choose to look at it that way. But the same part of me that will forever be inspired by the mere thought of brand new Trapper Keepers and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils in the fall, will also always be school-girl excited at the official start of another trip around the sun… especially when it comes on the heels of a less-than-stellar year.

So far, 2016 has been good to me!

Last week, I returned from a little five day mini-vacation visiting friends in Michigan. I almost didn’t go. Not because I didn’t want to go (I did, desperately), but because it just felt like it all might be too much, and that the timing might be all wrong. See above about pain and anxiety, et al.

I am so glad I went!  It turns out the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and it was a lovely way to usher in the new year.

For five days, I got to hit the “reset” button, and focus on nothing but visiting and playing and chatting and being, all with a good friend by my side.

I went to a henna party.

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I like this dream catcher so much, I think I may need to get one as an actual tattoo someday…

I got a new piercing.

I saw my favorite alt rock band on the planet.

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That guitarist in the hat? I gave birth to him.

I drank a lot of Captain and Cokes.

I took a gorgeous walk through the Michigan snow (on my birthday, no less!).


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A word about snow and cold, if I may. I don’t miss it, but I miss the IDEA of it. I miss how beautiful it makes everything look, I miss the crispness, I miss its energy, I miss how alive it makes you feel. It was lovely to visit (especially on my birthday; how cool is that??) and it was lovely to ditch the heavy layers once I landed back in Phoenix.

And now, back home, real life beckons.  Yesterday, I took the 11 year old to the doctor for a sports injury.  Today I go to the dentist for what I’m positive will result in a root canal.  Nothing has changed and yet…. everything has changed, because I got a much-needed break, and with it a new perspective.  I’m genuinely excited for the rest of 2016, whatever it may bring.

TL:DR When your life has gone offline, sometimes stepping away for a few days helps.  A lot. Snowstorms and rock bands optional.

P.S.  My website is going to be down for a few days while I give it a face lift.  Thanks for being awesome and patient.


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5 Phrases To Use When Your Child Is Having a Hard Time

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There’s an article getting passed around on social media right now titled, “5 Phrases That Will Make Your Kids Stop Crying and Begging.”  The author sets the stage of a child who’s upset because she wasn’t allowed to get the candy she wanted at the grocery store.  Using phrases such as “Asked and answered,”  “This conversation is over,” and “The decision has been made. If you ask again there will be a consequence”  will halt such tantrums on the spot, she tells us, and remind the child who’s boss.  By the way – and I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler alert – when she says, “consequence”, what she really means is “punishment”.

Now I tend to be a parent who says, “yes” as much as possible.  An occasional cookie or two before dinner, or an inexpensive impulse buy at the checkout lane don’t really rank on my list of things on which to draw a hard line.  But even if they did?  Even during those moments when I do absolutely have to say “no” to something?  (And yes, to be sure, there are moments when I need to say no)  That is a time to help them learn to work through their disappointment in a healthy way.  It’s a time to hear them, and to empathize with them.  It is NOT a time to ignore their feelings and shut them down.  It is not a time for punishing them for being human.  Being sad or disappointed sometimes is normal and okay!

Approaches like the one outlined in this article not only teach a child to squash their emotions. They are also extremely adversarial, and set up an “us vs them” mentality between parent and child.  While some parents would advise that it’s simply a matter of learning to pick your battles, I never want to view any interaction with my child as a battle.  We’re on the same team!

Here then are five alternative things I might say when my child is crying or disappointed.

  1. I’m sorry.  

    When a dear friend is venting to you because he got passed over for a promotion, do you shut him down with a “This conversation is over”?  Of course not.  You tell him you’re sorry. To a toddler, that cookie is just as important as the promotion, and his feelings of sadness are real.  I think adults probably tend to forget that, because social media has made it so easy for parents to share and pass off children’s big feelings over seemingly small things as funny or cute.  But their feelings are genuine, and because they are young, they know no other way to express them other than through crying or yelling. As a parent you can either shut them down and essentially tell them to stop feeling what they’re feeling, or you can help them work through it, and by extension eventually learn more mature or sophisticated ways of expressing their emotions.  I always strive to go with the latter, and it all starts with empathy.

  2. I hear you.  

    Or I know, or it really stinks.  I’ve been in and out of doctors’ offices a lot this year, especially the last few months.  And while some of my symptoms are things that the doctor can see, or quantify on paper, some are completely subjective (like pain and fatigue.)  This past week, one of my doctors said the best thing I’d heard in months.  She said – and meant – “I believe you.”  Seriously, it was huge for me.  Anyone who’s ever suffered from a mystery ailment knows how incredibly frustrating it is to think that everyone around you is starting to believe that you’re just crazy.  I think that one of the biggest things we need and desire as humans sharing this world is just to be heard.   We want to know that someone is listening, that they are hearing what we are saying, and that they understand.  Children are no different.  Telling them that you’re sorry is a great place to start, but when you tell them that you hear them… that you understand… that YES, I know you wanted that cookie and it really sucks sometimes when we don’t get what we want… you’re taking it one step further, you’re validating their feelings, and you’re letting them know that you get it.   That is a hugely powerful and healing thing, to kids and adults alike.

  3. It’s okay to be sad.  

    Did you ever notice how often adults apologize for crying?  They’ll be engaged in a conversation, and be overcome with emotion.  They’ll well up, or a tear will escape, and they’ll shake their head and mutter, “I’m sorry,” while quickly brushing the tears away.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s because it’s such a common practice to tell kids to stop crying. Are we creating a whole society of emotionally stunted adults?  It’s okay to be sad.  It’s okay to cry.  Giving your child a safe space to feel what they feel, and letting them know – whether through words or actions – that what they’re feeling is okay goes a long way towards helping them work through their emotions.

  4. How can I help?  

    A couple of weeks ago, Tegan (7 at the time of this writing) was terribly disappointed about a cancelled play date and sleepover that she’d been so looking forward to for days.  It had been a long time since I’d seen her that disappointed about something. She didn’t want to play, didn’t want to use the computer (ordinarily one of her favorite things) and didn’t want to talk to any friends.  I hugged her, told her how sorry I was, and finally asked, “Do you want to do something with me to take your mind off it, or do you just need to be sad?”  She answered, “I just need to be sad.”  So she was.  I sat with her on the couch, and I gave her space to be sad.   I think our first response too often tends to err on the side of trying to cheer someone up, probably because we’re uncomfortable with expressions of big feelings (see number 3). But sometimes what a person needs is to just be sad.  And sometimes they do want to be cheered up!   The only way to know for sure is to ask, and in the case of a younger child, read and respect what they’re telling you non-verbally.

  5. Next time…. 

    In the case of the cancelled sleepover, there really wasn’t anything I could do to make it better, other than tell her I was sure we’d be able to reschedule for another time.  (We were, and we did, and she had a great time).  Sometimes though, depending on the child and the circumstance, it can be helpful to be specific about future plans:

    “Next time we come to the store, we’ll get a balloon.”

    “Payday is Friday, so we can get ice cream then.”

    “We don’t have time to stop at the playground today, but we can go this weekend.”  Etc.

    And then be sure to follow through!   The foundation of a good relationship with your children – of a good relationship with anyone – is trust, and letting them know 1) that you’re on their side, and 2) that your word is good goes a long way towards establishing that trust.

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Our interactions with our children should never be about manipulation and control.  They should be about connection, and about helping these little people entrusted in our care to navigate the world with kindness, compassion and respect.   Dealing with, and working through,  emotions is a big part of being human, so the last thing we want to do is deny our children that experience…. especially when they can do it with their most trusted adult at their side.

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2015 Top Ten Posts

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It’s somehow four days after Christmas, and nearly the new year.  Christmas was lovely and very low-key.  And now, as I look forward to 2016 (and this year, more than ever, I am REALLY looking forward to a new year) I’m taking the few minutes to put 2015 – at least the blog version of it – to bed, and revisiting my most-read posts of the year.  Once again, I gleefully broke the cardinal rule of blogging and didn’t stick to one specific niche.  In addition to parenting and unschooling, the following list contains posts pertaining to faith, food, and.. yoga pants.  And still you guys keep reading!

Here are my most read and shared posts from this year, from least to most amount of views:

10.  I love God.  I love my husband.  And I still wear yoga pants in public.  – No matter what we choose to wear in public, we have GOT to stop victim blaming.

9.  Instead of Punishment:  Where To Start – This is a question I get asked a lot, and while it’s not something that can be answered in one post, my hope was that this would at least be a jumping-off point.

8.  How I Learned To Read:  Four Unschooled Kids, Four Stories – Another question I get asked a lot!  If you don’t teach them, how will they learn to read??  The fact is, it is different for everyone, but yes, they’ll all learn!  These are my kids’ – very different – stories.

7.  I Won’t Throw Stones… Unless You’re LGBT – It kind of breaks my heart that I need to keep writing about this, but as long as it continues to be an issue (and so far, it is continuing to be an issue) I won’t keep quiet about it.

6.  12 Ways To Raise Children That Are Generous And Kind – Lists are my favorite.

5.  To My Fellow Christians, After The Supreme Court Ruling – See number 7.  This post ticked a lot of people off, and while that isn’t the most comfortable thing for me (I’m not someone who enjoys conflict.  At all), an angry response just makes it all the more likely that I’ll write about it again in the future.  This is a conversation that needs to be ongoing.

4.  Food Freedom, And Why I Stopped Using The Phrase, “Clean Eating” – Eat the cookie.  Enjoy your food.  Listen to your body.

3.  Dear Parents, Don’t Be Assholes – I’m kind of embarrassed that this is on the list.  Not because I don’t completely stand by it, but because while if you’re good friends with me in my 3D life, you’ve likely heard me say a word like “asshole”, I’ve mostly made it a point not to write it on my blog.  Let alone in a title.  In a post that’s been shared thousands of times.  :)  But sometimes it needs to be said, and the overall message – BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS! – stands.

2.  Silly Christians, Cups Are For Coffee – I’m kind of embarrassed that this is here too, just because it was no more than a really big rant.  Still, I’m honored that you read my rants.

1.  Six Things My Kids Are Allowed To Say To Adults – Another list, and one that really resonated.  This post actually became my second most-viewed post of all the time.  (The first is this one – also a list :) )  Thank you, for reading and sharing!!

 

And finally, these are the four posts that while written prior to this year, still grabbed people’s attention enough to put them back in the top ten for this year:

 

Why My Kids Will Never Be Socialized

I stole your stuff.  Now I’m holding it for ransom

My Promise To My Children

I Don’t Care Where Your Kids Go To School

 

Thanks as always for sticking around and reading and sharing and commenting on my posts!! Best wishes for a healthy and happy 2016.

xoxo


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The Biggest Thing I Wish People Understood About Depression

Photo by Lloyd Morgan

It’s 11 days before Christmas.  It’s 8:00 in the morning, raining outside, and cozy and dark where I sit in the living room.  The 18 year old is up, but the rest of the kids are still in bed where they’ll remain for the next several hours.   I have my coffee and my laptop, and the dogs – having already been let out, fed and watered – are snoozing peacefully on the carpet below me. I hear the occasional car outside, as neighbors head to work, and every now and then the rain picks up, beating hard against the tile of the back patio.  It is peaceful and idyllic and yet… there’s a sadness, just below the surface.

The holidays always make everything so heightened.  While I’m trying to keep things fun and say “yes” as often as I can to the kids, and “no” to as much as I need to in order to make the “yeses” possible;  While I do the shopping and the wrapping and the cleaning and the baking; While I tick items off a to-do list that no matter how carefully I cull and prioritize, always seems just a few items too long; While I try to stop, and breathe, and appreciate and sink into all the little moments in between the chaos…

I do it all through the immobilizing dark threads of depression that have once again gathered at the corners of my psyche.

It’s a tricky thing, depression.  And it’s by and large a secret thing, not exactly the stuff of light holiday party fare.  Society tells us not to talk about it too much (or at all) because it’s… dark. Uncomfortable. Too personal.  But while I of course can’t speak for anyone else, the biggest reason that I don’t talk about it more is simply one of straight-up frustration. It’s the same reason that I am so, so reluctant to share any medical issues (a whole other post for another day):

People invariably want to try to fix it.

And please don’t misunderstand me.  I absolutely understand and appreciate that the vast majority of people are well intentioned, and just want to help.   I do.  But the thing is,

You can’t fix someone else’s depression.  You just can’t.

If you think about it, even professionals don’t fix it.  They provide support, and they provide resources, and they provide tools, but they don’t fix it.  The actual fixing, or managing as it were, comes from the individual and no one else.  And to say that a journey to wellness is highly individualized and personal would be a gross understatement.  I know what’s worked – and not worked – for me in the past.  I know what I’m willing – and not willing – to try in the moment.  What I don’t know is what the answer is for someone else.

As much as you may want to, you can’t fix it for someone else.  And unless your friend specifically tells you, “I need advice”, I can all but promise you that advice is the last thing she wants.  She knows that therapy is an option.  She knows about essential oils and meditation and yoga and the importance of eating well and getting rest.  She knows about medications and natural supplements.  She’s heard all the quotes and the inspirational words and the over-used platitudes.  What your friend needs from you – ALL your friend needs from you – is for you to be there.

Some of the greatest, and most helpful, things that people have said to me when I’m having a hard time are also the most simple.  These are the things I so wish I could hear more of.  These are the things that help.

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“I love you.”

“I understand.”*  (But only if you really do.)

Unchecked depression is a hard thing to explain to someone else who’s never been there.  It’s not the same thing as being bummed out, or sad, or disappointed.  It’s pervasive.  It hurts.  It’s an ever-present weight on your heart, and your mind, and your body.  Every second of every day.  It’s like viewing the world, and yourself, and others, through soldered-on glasses that are the wrong prescription.   It’s a prison, and as an observer, you don’t have the key.

And I get it.  Individual personalities plays a large role here.   Some people are just hard-wired to want to immediately offer solutions (my husband.) Others are hard-wired to completely shut down when they’re given unsolicited advice (me.) But the fact remains, no matter what side of the spectrum you may land on, depression isn’t something you can solve for someone else. The best you can do is offer unconditional love and support, even when – or especially when! – the person in question wants to push everyone away.

You cannot fix it.   But you can be there, and that’s enough.

A dear friend once sent me some well-timed gourmet loose teas in the mail, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten.  And it wasn’t so much the tea itself (even though it was lovely, and very much enjoyed)  It was what the teas represented.  They represented, “I’m sorry.”  “I’m thinking of you.”  “I love you.”

Tea doesn’t cure depression, this much is true.  But the healing power of friendship?  That is immeasurable.

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(I also wrote about depression here.)

 

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Instead of Punishment: Where to Start

You've decided to stop spanking.Now what-

 

I have four kids who’ve never been spanked.  I would like to say that they’ve never been punished at all, but while we’d resolved from the very beginning not to physically hurt our children, moving away from punishments completely took a little more time.  Thankfully, our youngest three have grown up with no punishments of any kind (which, as it always stands to be said again, is not the same thing as growing up without discipline.  The two words are not synonymous.)

For lots of other families though, the decision comes much later…. after they’ve already used spankings and/or timeouts and other traditional parenting methods.  They’re convicted by something they’ve read, or by a friend or family member, or maybe just because they feel an inner stirring that something isn’t right.  Whatever the reason, they resolve to stop spanking and punishing, and feel really confident about their decision.

And then – not always, but often – there’s that moment of sheer panic.

One question that I get a lot, in various forms, is this:

If I don’t spank, what do I do?

And I get it.  I do.  It’s one thing to embrace a philosophy, and quite another to feel equipped in that moment when your child sticks a pen through a sofa cushion just to see what will happen… or shoves (another) sandwich into the slot in the VCR… or throws her brothers shoes into a lake… *

The question is a good one, and the answer far too involved to fully cover in one blog post.  My hope is that the following list will serve as a good place to start.

1.  Change your perspective.

The reason that there’s no one single answer to the question, “What do you do instead of spanking?” is that moving away from punishments requires an entirely new mindset.  It’s not a one-for-one deal.  Punishments (and their cousins, rewards) reduce your interaction with your children to a transaction:  you apply some sort of prescribed action, and you – hopefully – get a desired result.   But that’s not the way respectful relationships work.  At least it shouldn’t be! You shouldn’t try to control your children through punishment, fear, and manipulation tactics any more than you should do so to your spouse, or sister, or best friend.    So while it is imperative that you learn and practice peaceful tools for dealing with stressful situations (more on that in point two), your entire perspective also needs to shift before you can really understand gentle parenting.  It’s not about control; it’s about connection.  It’s not about rules; it’s about relationships.  You’re going to have to ask yourself, possibly over and over again, “Is what I’m about to do/say going to bring me and my child closer together, or draw us further apart?”  But wait, that sounds like work.  Wouldn’t it be easier just to spank?  Well… yes!  It takes time, and care, and effort to parent without punishments.  In order to commit to parenting with more mindfulness and respect you need to be all in.  You need to realize and recognize that your children aren’t yours to control, but are their own unique, living, breathing HUMANS, who deserve to be treated with as much care and consideration as you’d extend to any other person that you loved.   The parent/child relationship is one of the most important relationships you will ever have.  And just like any key relationship, it needs to be nurtured in order to stay healthy and strong.   Shifting your focus to your relationship with your child – and to making it sweeter, and kinder, and gentler – takes effort, to be sure, but it is by far one of the most rewarding things you can do….. for you and your child both.

2.  Equip yourself with positive tools.

So you’re working on changing your perspective, you’re focused on the relationship… and then the 2 year old gets angry and hurls a remote control at her brother’s head.  What do you do? The nice thing is that the more connected you are with your child, the easier it is to react with patience in the moment.  You’ll know your child, you’ll know yourself, and you’ll figure out how best to problem-solve together. Before you can problem-solve though, you need to diffuse the immediate issue.  Here are a few great places to start:

Breathe.  It sounds like a cliche, but it’s not.  Unless someone’s in imminent danger, your very first response (especially if you’re angry or frustrated) needs to be breathing!  Take a deep breath before you speak.  Take 20, or 100.  Intentional breathing sends oxygen through your body, releases endorphins, slows your heart rate, calms your adrenaline, and reduces stress and anxiety.

Listen.  Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Really stop and listen to what your child is trying to tell you.  Are they tired?  Frustrated?  Angry? Not feeling heard?  Just experimenting?  Find out the WHY behind the behavior, and you’ll know better how to proceed.

Empathize.  One of the most powerful and healing gifts someone can give us is empathy, and children are no exception.  Let them know that you hear what they’re saying, and that you understand how they’re feeling.

Redirect.   So much of what young children are punished for is completely normal and age-appropriate explorations.  Children learn from these explorations, so the last thing we want to do is punish them for it!  Instead, when your child does something unsafe, unkind, etc, consistently stop the behavior with a simple explanation (the younger the child, the fewer the words you should use), and move them on to a new activity.  With time and patience – and a parent by their side – they learn.

Take a time-IN.   Sometimes, what everyone needs is a change of scenery.  Pretty much the opposite of a time-out, which separates you from your child at a moment when they’re most needing connection, a time-in gives you both a chance to breathe, re-group, and get re-connected, together. A time-in can consist of any sort of new activity that you and your child find enjoyable.  There’s a long list of suggestions here.

3.  Walk beside them as they learn to safely navigate the world.

One of the things that I hear people say a lot is that they only spank for the most serious of infractions, such as safety issues.  I call it the, “But how will they learn to stay out of the street??” defense.  And it sounds reasonable enough.  If ever there was a time to spank, it’d be when their life was on the line, right?  But I couldn’t disagree more.  I actually think that safety issues are one of the weakest arguments for spanking, and here’s why:  any good parent’s gut instinct is going to tell them to react, and react in a hurry, if their child is in harm’s way.  Your toddler’s headed for a busy street, you react. Your baby’s about to stick a fork into an electrical outlet, you react.  And your facial expression, your words, your tone of voice, and your body language as you quickly move them to safety teach them everything they need to know…. without teaching them that they also need to fear pain at your hands as they’re learning. Navigate life with them.  Hold their hands when they cross the street.  Show them how to safely carry scissors and make toast and start a fire.  Help them keep their footing on the rocky trail. BE THERE with them as they figure out how life works, and they will naturally gain confidence and independence, all without ever having been punished for getting it wrong.

4.  Show them what respect looks like.

Along the same lines as number 3, children are not born knowing how to interact respectfully with the people around them.  They count on us as their parents to show them.  They don’t need punishments to learn that words are more effective than hitting for solving conflicts.  They don’t need punishments to learn that it’s unkind to call somebody stupid.  They don’t need punishments to learn that it’s impolite to tell Grandma that the dinner she spent two hours making tastes “gross.”  What they need is a parent who shows up; who shows them what it means to be respectful; who intervenes when they’re doing something that makes someone else feel sad, or scared, or uncomfortable; who interacts with them, and for them as they learn the intricacies of sharing our planet with others.  One of the biggest misconceptions that I think people have about gentle parenting is that it is the same thing as permissive parenting.  The two are actually polar opposites.  One is conscientious, and the other is neglect.  If you see a parent who is sitting back and just watching as her child does something that is disrespectful or somehow harmful to someone else… that is not a gentle parent.  That is someone who is failing to be a parent.

Show up.  Be there.  Help them navigate.

5.  Don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s ALL small stuff).

A couple of years ago, a video went around Facebook that showed the aftermath of two unattended kids with a 5 lb bag of flour.  There was flour all down the hallway.  On the couches. On the chairs.  On the kids.  In the carpet.  In the drapes.  Flour everywhere.  All five pounds of it.  Part of me for sure felt sympathy for the mom who filmed it because I’ve been there.  And oof.  The clean-up.  But another part me said, “Eh.  Small stuff.”  If you’re going to have kids, you’re going to have messes.  Things are going to be broken and spilled and smeared and dumped and spread.  It’s all part of the experience. And the greatest thing I learned between child one and child four (besides to stop and take a picture before I do anything else, because those photos are treasured later) is that that stuff just doesn’t matter.  People matter.  Love matters.  Messes, accidents…. it’s all just “stuff.” Not worth getting upset over, and certainly not worth yelling or punishing over. And just like with anything else, with time and patience and consistency, they really do learn to keep the flour in the bag.

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6.  Know their triggers (and yours).

Stop me if this sounds familiar.  You head out bright and early with your toddler to run a long list of errands.  You know he’s going to be missing his morning nap, but he’ll catch a few minutes of sleep in the car.  He’s pretty amiable for the first few stops.  He helps pick out the apples at the grocery store.  He enjoys his lollipop from the bank teller.  He starts getting antsy at the dry cleaners, pulling at your pant legs, whining, and rubbing his eyes. Back in the car, you reach in your bag to get his little tupperware container of Cheerios, but realize you left it on the kitchen counter.  You know you should probably head home, but you decide to squeeze in just one more stop.  You’re in the drug store when he reaches meltdown mode.  He cries when you pick him up, and cries harder when you set him down.  Tired, hungry, bored, and overstimulated, he doesn’t want to walk, doesn’t want to be carried, and eventually settles for sitting on the floor as the tears fall and the screams escalate.

We’ve all got our triggers.  And we’ve all got our breaking points.  If adults get cranky and unreasonable when they’re tired and hungry (and we all know adults for whom this is the case, or we *are* an adult for whom this is the case) how much more understandable is it for a child? Taking care to ensure that basic needs are met, that kids are fed and rested and attended to can go a long way towards more peaceful outings and more pleasant interactions for all.  My kids are older now – at the time of this writing they are 18, 15, 11, and 7 – but even now I know who isn’t at their happiest in the mornings. I know who is very sensitive to the feeling of being left out.  I know who works best when their surroundings are neat and tidy.  I know who has a hard time handling even a small lack of sleep.   Being aware, and respectful of, both our own triggers and the triggers of our children allows us to treat each other with more care, and more kindness.  It is categorically unfair, not to mention incredibly unkind, to ignore someone’s personal “buttons”, and then punish them for the reaction that we knew was coming.

7.  Practice the golden rule.

A lot of parents seem want to want to demand respect from their children, just because they’re the adults, but don’t treat their children in a manner that’s particularly deserving of that respect. The age-old adage of treating others the way you’d like to be treated yourself applies not just equally, but more when it comes to your children.  They are looking to you as their example. They are learning from you how to treat people.  If you want your children to be respectful, treat them with respect.  If you want your children to be polite, be polite when you speak to them (and to each other!).  If you want your children to embody kindness and compassion and humility and generosity, show them what it looks like.

8.  Take care of YOU.

There seems to be a general push by society to get away from your kids.  From the importance of regular “date nights”, to putting them in daycare and preschool at a young age, to extended vacations without them… there’s no shortage of advice telling us to separate.  I tend to believe the opposite:  I think it’s very important that we’re with our kids as much as possible (especially when they’re young), and that true independence will happen naturally and easily when it’s allowed to happen on their time, not ours.

That doesn’t mean though that I don’t think self-care is important! On the contrary, it’s almost impossible to properly care for someone else when you’re not first taking good care of yourself. Even when you need to force yourself – or more accurately, especially when you need to force yourself – caring for your own needs (be they physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, creative….) is an integral part of parenting well.  I can’t speak for all moms, but I find it way too easy to lose myself in my kids, and go go go until I’m exhausted and cranky and burnt out.  And I learned somewhere along the way that when the kids and I get off-track, when people are out of sorts, when behavior starts getting wonky…. nine times out of ten it’s because I’ve been neglecting myself, which then caused me to be snippy and impatient and disconnected.  When I focus on taking better care of me, I’m able to then have the proper wherewithal to give my kids what they need as well.  Kids need a parent who is fully invested.  And in another cliche that’s turned out to be true:  You can’t fill your kids’ cups until you’ve filled your own.

 

BONUS: Looking for more specific suggestions for when your child hits, or tells you “no”, or has a hard time transitioning? Download my free PDF, listing ten of the most common (and most frustrating) toddler/young child behaviors, along with specific examples of what you can say and how you can respond gently and without punishment.

Moving beyond punishment, and parenting with connection instead of control, takes deliberate and mindful choices, as well as an ongoing commitment and effort (at times, a lot of effort).  And the reward is not in some hypothetical promise of how my kids are going to “turn out” some day. No, the beauty of gentle parenting is in the relationship that I enjoy with my kids right now… a relationship that’s sweeter and closer and more connected than I know it would be otherwise. Having children that are kind hearted and respectful and compassionate?  That’s just a bonus.

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P.S. I am working on a month long, premium course that dives much deeper into each of the eight points above.   Make sure you’re on my mailing list if you’d like to receive a notification of its release.

*   Examples may or may not have been taken from my own life.

 


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2016 Erin Condren Life Planner Giveaway

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I am a pen and paper girl.

Electronics and computers and phone apps have their place of course, but when it comes to calendars and schedules and to-do lists I need to write it down. I’ve tried all the apps (and some of them are amazing, to be sure), but without fail I always go back to my true love: old fashioned pen and paper.

A friend introduced me to the Erin Condren life planners a couple of years ago, and they have been one of my favorite things ever since.

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By the way, this is NOT a sponsored giveaway. This is me giving something away that I have an extra of (I’ll explain why in a minute) and subsequently gushing about why I love it, girlfriends-drinking-coffee-together style. With the exception of the $10 off link I’ll give down below, in case anyone decides to buy from Erin Condren, I have no financial interest here at all.

Having said that, I adore these planners!

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A peek inside a random sample page in my own planner… complete with washi tape, and Snoopy stickers :)

Beautiful, functional, sturdy, and inspirational. I write in, and refer to, my planner over and over, week after week. It’s perfect for to-do lists, reminders for emails I have to answer, blog posts I need to write… and keeping track of appointments and play dates and football practice in my 3-D life too. :) And, bonus, it’s just so pretty.

When I recently ordered my planner for 2016, they mistakenly sent me my order and someone else’s. I emailed them right away to let them know. Within just a couple of hours they had gotten back to me to thank me, and told me that they’d send out a new one to the other customer, and to just keep or give away or toss the other one so I wouldn’t have to be hassled with sending anything back to them. (1. Hurray for AWESOME customer service, and 2. Would anyone actually THROW AWAY a perfectly good $50 planner?? I cry at the thought)

So, their error is your gain! I would love for the extra planner to go to one of my beautiful readers.

I replaced the personalized cover with “The Best is Yet to Come” cover that came on my own planner before I bought one with my name (full disclosure: it’s a little scuffed from sitting in my desk drawer). You can either keep it as-is, or order yourself a personalized cover from their website (covers are about $10) The inside is brand-new and untouched and crisp and beautiful. If you’re unfamiliar with Erin Condren, these are heavy-duty, spiral-bound planners. They have laminated tabs to easily flip to the right month, a removable plastic ruler/bookmark to keep your place, a monthly view and a weekly view for each month, a few pages of lined, gridded, and blank notebook pages at the end, a couple pages of stickers for birthdays and appointments, some more pages of blank stickers, and a folder and a ziplock pouch in the back filled with even more stickers and little freebies. They’ve truly thought of everything.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that my heart is fluttering even just looking at the pictures again.

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If you’re like me, and get excited about all things pen and paper, enter to win below. I will personally send it out to the winner as soon as the giveaway is over.

If you don’t win (or you just can’t wait), you can use this link* for $10 off your first purchase from the Erin Condren website:

Winner will be drawn on Monday, November 23rd. Good luck!  **Winner has been drawn and notified.  Thank you!!**

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*affiliate link


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Free to Be 2015

Last year, I devoted four long, detailed posts to the conference… how it went, how I felt about it, what it meant to me.

I’m in a different place this year, with different things going on, and different things currently taking my attention.  So, no four part posts, but if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video slideshow I put together.

I’m proud of what we created (twice!) and I’m looking forward to next year.  This conference represents a lot of blood, sweat, and tears not just for me, but for our entire family.  A huge thank you, again, to everyone who attended and made it possible.


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